Rural Hospitals Get IT Funds

Another $12 million in federal health IT assistance is making its way to rural and critical-access hospitals from the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology, bringing the total amount of assistance to $32 million.

The money will benefit 48 of the ONC's 63 Regional Extension Centers (RECs), which provide technical support to help hospitals qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments. Funding comes from the Health Information Technology Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which created the EHR incentive programs. ONC provided $20 million in funding for critical-access and rural hospital technical support in September.

Rural hospitals and other medical professionals must meet ONC standards for "meaningful use" of electronic health records to qualify for the incentives, but doing so often requires expensive outside technical expertise.

"We recognize that the transition to electronic health records is a challenge and that rural facilities face even greater challenges to make the transition from paper to electronic records," Dr. David Blumenthal, the national coordinator for health information technology, said in a news release issued Tuesday.

In late January, Blumenthal announced that RECs would receive another $32 million in funding to provide technical assistance to all health care providers in their regions. The money released Tuesday is targeted for the critical-access and rural hospitals.