HHS plans move to cloud for regional centers

HHS will deploy CRM software to RECs for managing medical providers' implementation of electronic record systems

The Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information is looking to deploy cloud-based customer relationship and project management software over the next six weeks to its Regional Extension Centers.

The software will help the RECs to more effectively track and manage medical providers implementing electronic health record (EHR) systems, said Marty Young, managing director of Acumen Solutions, the company implementing the technology. The cloud computing CRM and project management technology comes from Salesforce.com, and HHS will used it nationally.

SalesForce.com provides and hosts prebuilt applications for commercial users and government agencies in what is known as software-as-a-service offerings. Acumen has customized the software to meet HHS business and specifications.

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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has allocated funding for medical providers to implement EHR systems.

As a result, ONC has been tasked with encouraging the adoption of health information technology and the promotion of a nationwide health information exchange (HIE) to improve health care.

To more effectively distribute these grants, ONC is creating a network of RECs that will provide regionalized support to medical providers for the selection and implementation of EHR solutions

“This is a very large scale project and [ONC] must deploy a CRM solution to over 2,000 users within six weeks,” Young said. A cloud-based solution gives HHS the ability to rapidly roll out a solution with very little cost, he said.

The move to cloud-based SaaS solutions appears to be a growing trend among agencies. The Department of Labor recently deployed an Oracle financial management system agencywide. The financial management system is a SaaS solution developed and hosted by Government Computer Enterprises.

The end users for the HHS CRM application will be the RECs, which have received Recovery Act grant money. The RECs, in turn will work with physicians who want to implement EHRs.

Each doctor who chooses an electronic records system is like a mini IT project, Young noted. They have to purchase hardware and software, configure and deploy their solutions. The RECs will use Salesforce.com to mange those projects and determine where they stand in completing its milestones.

HHS will thereby have the ability to measure which RECs are working with the physicians and the types of products used, Young said. For example, the CRM solution will contain data elements about the types of doctors, obstetricians or pediatricians, using EHR systems in the various geographic regions.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis last week announced a total of nearly $1 billion in Recovery Act awards to help health care providers advance the adoption and meaningful use of health information technology and train workers for the health care jobs of the future.

The over $750 million in HHS grant awards Sebelius announced are part of a federal initiative to build capacity to enable widespread meaningful use of health IT. Of the $750 million investment, $386 million will go to 40 states and qualified state designated entities to facilitate HIE at the state level, while $375 million will go to an initial 32 nonprofit organizations to support the development of RECs that will aid health professionals as they work to implement and use health IT.

Additional HIE and REC awards will be announced in the near future, HHS officials said. RECs are expected to provide outreach and support services to at least 100,000 primary care providers and hospitals within two years.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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