Is There An Alternative To The RECs?

Posted on July 10, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A few days ago, I wrote a column for sister blog EMRandHIPAA dishing out scathing criticism of the Regional Extension Center (REC) program.

Not one to mince words, I confess I was a bit merciless in my critique, slamming the RECs as virtually useless. (Yes, I’m sure they’ve had the occasional success, but far too few to justify their existence  — or so it seems from my vantage point.)  The column smoked out a few REC defenders, but most  people who commented seemed to share my frustration.

All that being said, it’s hard to argue that there’s a place for organizations that intelligently, efficiently offer EMR adoption help to smaller medical practices.  It’s all well and good to push hospitals and other institutions to go digital, but doctors are where the rubber hits the road.

So after heaping abuse on the RECs — your call as to whether I’ve been fair — I thought it might be worthwhile to offer a few alternative approaches (which could be offered singly or as a package):

* Small practices usually can’t afford top-drawer IT consultants to guide them in EMR adoption. What if the REC program existed entirely to help practices assess their workflow and clinical needs? The consultants, which could be made available for free or for a small fee, would come on site and teach practices how to think about these problems.

* The RECs could offer a very rich Web resource, including checklists and forms, helping practices create lists of automatically-generated criteria and matching those results to EMR products. Once the matching process was complete, RECs could offer phone-based or live sessions helping doctors understand how to effectively research those vendors.

* What if RECs offered intense EMR education classes, as some professional societies are beginning to do, which physician leaders could attend to gain a broader view of both business problems and technology issues.  Ideally, the classes would come with CME credits, which would definitely encourage more doctors to attend.

So, these are just a few ideas that popped into my head as I composed this article. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What services should a REC or similar organization offer to advance EMR adoption?