updated 9/13/2010 6:15:57 PM ET 2010-09-13T22:15:57

SEATTLE, Sept. 13, 2010 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced on Friday that nearly $20 million in new technical support assistance has been released to help critical access and rural hospitals' outpatient facilities convert from paper-based medical records to certified electronic health record (EHR) technology. Among the awards, $564,000 is provided to Qualis Health for WIREC, the Washington & Idaho Regional Extension Center for Health Information Technology.

The benefits of health information technology can be especially important for patients and clinicians in small and rural healthcare facilities, yet these practices face high hurdles as they look toward joining in the transition to electronic information. Some 1,655 critical access and rural hospitals in 41 states stand to benefit from this special assistance, including outpatient clinics at up to 47 facilities across Idaho and Washington.

"Physicians, nurse practitioners, and other providers working with critical access hospitals are integral to sustaining health and productivity in rural communities," said Jonathan Sugarman, MD, MPH, President and CEO of Qualis Health. "We are excited to be able to enhance our efforts to help these providers implement 21st century solutions to improve care."

This new funding aims specifically to assist outpatient practices affiliated with critical access and rural hospitals select and implement EHR systems. It will build upon the substantial base HHS has already built to provide assistance to healthcare providers throughout the country as they transition to EHRs. By converting to certified EHR technology, these providers can qualify for substantial additional incentive payments from Medicare or Medicaid. It highlights HHS's efforts in supporting rural providers and small practices to achieve meaningful use.

Led by Qualis Health, WIREC provides technical assistance, guidance, vendor-neutral EHR adoption services, and information to eligible healthcare professionals to help them achieve meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs) and quality for CMS incentive payments. WIREC was selected and awarded through an objective review process by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). WIREC serves as a direct pipeline to the national Regional Extension Center program, leveraging our connection to a national collaborative of RECs while bringing local expertise to support providers across the region with technical assistance for successful EHR adoption.

For more information about the new funding, visit http://healthit.hhs.gov/RuralHealth. For more information about WIREC, visit http://www.wirecQH.org.

Qualis Health is dedicated to improving the quality of healthcare delivery and health outcomes for individuals and populations across the nation. Headquartered in Seattle, Washington, the nonprofit healthcare quality improvement and consulting organization strives to achieve performance excellence for our clients by focusing on best practices and providing a range of services that lead to better quality care, higher patient and provider satisfaction and greater efficiency. Qualis Health serves as the CMS-designated Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) for Washington and Idaho and also provides care management, quality assessment and improvement and health information technology consulting services across the country.

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