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Rural tech training, partnerships worth their weight in gold

“I was drowning before I was introduced to Northeast Kentucky Regional Health Information Organization (NeKY RHIO),” says Lori Back, office manager at Morehead (Ky.) Primary Care, an NeKY RHIO member.

Gary Coleman, MD, says he rests easier thanks to his membership with the organization.

“I can sleep at night knowing that NeKY RHIO keeps my systems functioning efficiently,” says Coleman, pediatrician and owner of Kid Care PSC in Maysville, Ky., also an NeKY RHIO member.

Assistance with EHR adoption and more

One of 41 grantees to receive funds from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) to assist health entities with the successful adoption of electronic health records, NeKY RHIO’s sustainability model includes a membership plan with a threepronged approach: core services, IT services and support membership.

“They have taken away all my IT and technical headaches and really helped with the burden of transitioning to ICD-10,” Back adds. “It is, by far, the best decision I have made for the practice and would recommend these services to a practice just opening their doors or one that is wellestablished.”

As a grantee of FORHP’s Rural Health Information Technology Development (RHITND) program, NeKY RHIO serves 17 counties and is governed vertically by a board of directors with representatives from health care facilities, including hospitals, federally qualified health centers and other providers.

Capital funding critical to implementation

The RHITND Program was a threeyear pilot program designed to provide targeted health information technology (HIT) support to existing health care networks in rural America, where the need is most critical. At the time of the grant application process, the network members were at various stages of meaningful use (MU), and several were unable to move forward due to monetary restrictions.

“Many [of our] facilities adopted EHR systems and MU but operated computer systems on a non-existent IT infrastructure,” explains Andrew Bledsoe, NeKY RHIO’s executive director. “Often, systems were maintained by friends and family, not health care-trained professionals, which resulted in frequent system crashing and network slowness, making it more of a hindrance than help.”

Rural providers often have difficulty securing capital needed to make the initial investment in hardware, software and organizational capacity necessary for successful implementation of HIT and electronic health records (EHR).

Full members receive IT service and support and all core services, plus set up, hardware and software repairs, HIPAA security assistance and proactive protection. Core services include MU certification and compliance, patient-centered medical home consultation, physician quality reporting system measures, group purchasing organization savings, electronic billing and coding, and HIPAA security consultation and training.

“Our systems were so slow prior to NeKY RHIO,” says Kristen McDowell, office manager at Kid Care, PSC. “[Now,] it’s as if all our computers and systems are brand new.”

Subsequent to RHITND funding, the organization has continued to sustain and strengthen its IT services and network activities through the membership model, the Health IT Workforce Training Program (FORHP’s three-year pilot program) and ICD-10 trainings. Membership allows a number of employees from each network member to participate in both the workforce training program and the ICD-10 training.

By the third and final year of the grant program, NeKY RHIO had 26 members. Bledsoe credits the grant for getting the organization off the ground.

“Thanks to the FORHP funding opportunity, we were able to use the time on the grant to prove ourselves as an established company that provides a quality service.”

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