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Beacon Communities ready to share lessons learned in health IT, HIE

The Beacon Community program, authorized under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was created by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to showcase the power of health information technology in improving health outcomes and costs. It is one of three programs (regional extension centers, or RECs, and health information exchanges [HIEs] are the others) that aim to expedite and streamline the adoption of health IT.

The Beacon Community grants were awarded in May 2010. This week’s NHIN University webinar featured an update from Craig Brammer, deputy director of the program. He began by outlining its three goals:

  • To support better care enabled by health IT.
  • To support lasting learning networks.
  • To provide lessons and best practices for other communities.

Since May the program has awarded grants to 17 communities across the U.S., from Maine to Hawaii. The proposals received from the communities selected were all very different, so the program embarked on a 90-day plan  to ensure each community had well-defined, measurable objectives. The Indiana community’s goals include “increas[ing] the proportion of diabetic patients whose blood sugar and cholesterol are under control,” and “reduc[ing] hospital admissions and emergency room visits for patients with conditions that could have been treated in an outpatient setting.”

So far, only two Beacon Communities — Indiana’s and Cincinnati’s — are engaged in a mature level of health information exchange, defined by the program as “operational, sustainable community-wide exchange capabilities with a history of expansion (e.g., additional data types, stakeholders, services) and measurable results or outcomes.”

The program also studied nine specific Beacon Communities, looking at their infrastructure and stakeholders for health information exchange. The study found that hospitals and health systems, as well as physician groups, are important stakeholders in health information exchange for most communities. Several communities indicated that a clinical data repository and master patient index were the top HIE architectural components they needed to meet target outcomes.

Now that the Beacon Communities are established and working toward their goals, the program is focusing on how to share the lessons being learned from them with a wider audience. The program hopes to give other communities an opportunity to participate, learn and work together. One of the ways it plans to do that is through a recently launched website, Health Care Transformation Has Begun, that was created by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation. In conjunction with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, or AHRQ, the foundation is working to promote further discussion on how communities — both inside and outside the Beacon Community program — can help to transform health care.

In addition, the ONC has launched a set of Web pages for the 17 Beacon Communities, with case summaries and videos highlighting each one’s goals and programs. The videos were produced by Jesse Dylan (singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s son), who greatly reduced his fee for services because he was so enthused about the work being done. The videos have an emotional appeal, and are designed to engage people in the discussion about health IT and get them excited about participating.

Dylan also produced this video for the program, which gives an overview of the Beacon Communities:

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RT @SearchHealthIT: Beacon Communities ready to share lessons learned in #healthIT, #HIE