ONC Exceeds Meaningful Use Goal For Rural Providers

Posted on by Frank J. Rosello

Is the EHR digital divide between robust tech-savvy large health networks and the smaller rural and critical access hospitals as deep and craggy as we keep hearing it is? Perhaps, but there has been substantive progress to date.

ONC, in fact, has already surpassed its stated aim of enlisting 1,000 rural and critical access hospitals to meaningful use by the end of 2014.

Referencing statistics collected at July’s close, ONC officials noted that 62 percent of CAHs and 77 percent of rural hospitals with fewer than 50 beds have attested to meaningful use and, what’s more, the total having done so is 1,115.

“The small rural and CAHs that have achieved this milestone are well distributed across the country — success has not been limited to one region,” Mat Kendall, director of ONC’s office of provider support and Leila Samy, ONC’s rural health IT coordinator, wrote on the Health IT Buzz blog Friday. “With hard work and grit, these safety-net hospitals have made amazing progress since 2011, despite the real challenges they face.”

Kendall and Samy pointed to half-a-dozen such challenges: a remote geographic location, small size and the low patient volume that come with it, a limited workforce, clinician shortages, constrained financial resources, and the lack of adequate and affordable connectivity.

Indeed, just last week 17 U.S. Senators called on HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to push back stage 2 of meaningful use citing, as they did during Senate Finance Committee hearings on health IT over the summer, the struggles small rural and critical access hospitals are having achieving meaningful use.

Yet, the aforementioned percentages of attesters means that 1,115 CAHs and small rural providers, out of 1,715, have successfully attested to meaningfully using an EHR.

A year ago Kendall and Samy threw down the challenge, an all hands on deck call to action, to pull those 1,000 CAHs and small rural hospitals into meaningful use, and backed it up with the $30 million allocated for regional extension centers to target those providers.

So there is strong evidence that the industry responded, but the ONC officials are careful to explain that “there is still much work to be done in our continued support for rural health care,” Kendall and Sammy wrote. “As we look to the road ahead, we see that we — and the rural hospitals and providers — are just at the end of the beginning.”

Article written by Tom Sullivan

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