Health IT 'Beacon Communities' awarded $220 million

The government has released the names of the 15 communities across the country from Maine to Hawaii that will serve as models for the broad use of healthcare information technology under a $220 million program aimed at improving care and efficiency – and creating new jobs.

Vice President Joe Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the names Tuesday. The funds for the program are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and are being disbursed through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). The ONC received 130 applications for the program.

"These pioneering communities are going to lead the way in bringing smarter, lower-cost health care to all Americans through use of electronic health records," said Biden. "Because of their early efforts, doctors across the country will one day be able to coordinate patient care with the stroke of a key or pull up life-saving health information instantly in an emergency – and for the residents of these communities, that future is about to become a reality. 

"Thanks to the Recovery Act's historic investment in health IT, Biden added, "we're not only advancing the way healthcare is delivered in this country, we're also building a whole new industry along with it – one that will shape our 21st century economy for generations to come and employ tens of thousands of American workers."

"The most important healthcare innovations are those that are designed and tested by providers and community leaders all across the country." Sebelius said. " Beacon Communities will offer insight into how health IT can make a real difference in the delivery of healthcare. The Beacon Community Program will tap the best ideas across America and demonstrate the enormous benefit health IT will have to improving health and care within our communities."

IT resources within the community

The selected Beacon Communities will use health IT resources within their community as a foundation for bringing doctors, hospitals, community health programs, federal programs and patients together to design new ways of improving quality and efficiency to benefit patients and taxpayers. Each Beacon Community has elected specific and measurable improvement goals in each of three vital areas for health systems improvement: quality, cost-efficiency, and population health. The goals vary according to the needs and priorities of each community.

The selected Beacon Communities will use health IT resources within their community as a foundation for bringing doctors, hospitals, community health programs, federal programs and patients together to design new ways of improving quality and efficiency to benefit patients and taxpayers. 

Each Beacon Community has elected specific and measurable improvement goals in each of three vital areas for health systems improvement: quality, cost-efficiency, and population health.  The goals vary according to the needs and priorities of each community.

Tulsa to tackle obesity

For example, in Tulsa, Okla., a community dealing with an epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes that has the highest rate of cardiovascular disease deaths in the nation, the award will help 1,600 physicians and other providers participate in a new community-wide health information system that will help them better monitor and improve care transitions as patients move from one care setting to another.

The award is expected to help increase appropriate referrals for cancer screenings, increase access to care for patients with diabetes with telemedicine and reduce preventable hospitalizations and emergency department visits by 10 percent for conditions that could be better handled in clinical settings, yielding a potential cost savings of $11 million per year in the Tulsa area for taxpayers and patients.

Other communities will use their Beacon Community awards to provide better control of blood pressure for diabetic and hypertensive patients, improvements in care coordination and chronic disease management, reductions in preventable emergency department visits and re-hospitalizations, reductions in health disparities, better rates of immunization for children and adults, and better adherence to smoking cessation and appropriate cancer screening guidelines. 

The Beacon projects are expected to initially create dozens of new jobs in each community paying an average of $70,000 per year for a total of 1,100 jobs up-front, while accelerating development of a nationwide health IT infrastructure that will eventually employ tens of thousands of Americans.

The 15 Beacon communities, their awards, and key strategies for success follow on next page. 

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