The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) spearheads the federal government's HIT efforts and is a resource to the entire health system to support the adoption of HIT and the promotion of nationwide Health Information Exchange (HIE) to improve health care. ONC reports into the Office of the Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The position of National Coordinator was created in 2004, through an Executive Order, and legislatively mandated in the HITECH Act of 2009.
The HITECH Act authorizes a HIT Extension Program. This program consists of a national HIT Research Center (HITRC) and HIT Regional Extension Centers (RECs). The HITRC will gather information on effective practices and help the RECs work with one another and with relevant stakeholders to identify and share best practices in EHR adoption, meaningful use, and provider support. The RECs will support and serve health care providers to help them quickly become adept and meaningful users of electronic health records (EHRs). RECs are designed to make sure that primary care clinicians get the help they need to use EHRs.
ONC has funded 62 RECs (pronounced R-E-Cs) to help more than 100,000 primary care providers meaningfully use EHRs. Eligible Providers who adopt and meaningfully use EHRs may receive incentive payments through the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs. Providers do not have to become technology experts to achieve meaningful use of EHRs; RECs will provide them with on-the-ground assistance. REC services include:
- Outreach and education
- EHR support (e.g., working with vendors, helping choose a certified EHR system)
- Technical assistance in implementing health IT and using it in a meaningful way to improve care.
RECs represent a range of organizations that serve local communities throughout the country. The RECs’ focus is to provide on-the-ground assistance for:
- Individual and small practices, including primary care providers, physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners
- Medical practices lacking resources to implement and maintain EHRs
- Those who provide primary care services in public and critical access hospitals, community health centers, and other settings that mostly serve those who lack adequate coverage or medical care