Health IT 'Beacon Communities' awarded $220 million

By Bernie Monegain
10:58 AM
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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. 

Community Services Council of Tulsa, Tulsa, Okla. - $12,043,948

 Leverage broad community partnerships with hospitals, providers, payers, and government agencies  to expand a community-wide care coordination system, which will increase appropriate referrals for cancer screenings, decrease unnecessary specialist visits and (with telemedicine) increase access to care for patients with diabetes.

Delta Health Alliance, Inc., Stoneville, Miss. - $14,666,156

Focus on achieving improvements for diabetic patients by electronically linking isolated systems and practices for care management, medication therapy management and patient education.

Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, Brewer Maine - $12,749,740. 

Expand community connectivity, including long-term care, primary care and specialist providers, to existing Health Information Exchange and promote the use of telemedicine and patient self-management in order to improve care for elderly patients and individuals needing long-term or home care.

Geisinger Clinic, Danville, Pa. - $16,069,110

Enhance care for patients with pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure by creating a community-wide medical home, promoting Health Information Exchange and extending Geisinger’s proven model for practice redesign  to independent healthcare organizations throughout region.

HealthInsight, Salt Lake City, Utah - $15,790,181

Improve Diabetes management performance measures by increasing availability, accuracy and transparency of quality reporting, leverage Intermountain Healthcare’s strategies to reduce health systems costs throughout the region, and improve public health reporting.

Indiana Health Information Exchange, INC., Indianapolis, Ind. - $16,008,431

Expand the country’s largest Health Information Exchange to new community providers in order to improve cholesterol and blood sugar control for diabetic patients and reduce preventable re-admissions through telemonitoring of high risk chronic disease patients after hospital discharge.

Inland Northwest Health Services, Spokane, Wash. - $15,702,479

Focus on increasing preventive services for diabetic patients in rural areas by extending Health Information Exchange and establishing anchor institutions in close proximity to remote clinics that will promulgate successes in health IT supported care coordination.

Louisiana Public Health Institute, New Orleans, La. - $13,525,434

Reduce racial health disparities and improve control of diabetes and smoking cessation rates by linking technically isolated health systems, providers, and hospitals; and empower patients by increasing their access to Personal Health Records.

Mayo Clinic Rochester, d/b/a Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minn. - $12,284,770

Enhance patient management and, reduce costs associated with hospitalization and emergency services for patients with diabetes and childhood asthma and address reduce health disparities for underserved populations and rural communities.

Rhode Island Quality Institute, Providence, R.I. - $15,914,787

Improve the management of patients with diabetes through several health IT initiatives to support Rhode Island’s transition to the Patient Centered Medical Home model and adapt infrastructure proven to improve childhood immunizations in order to achieve improvements in adult immunization rates.

Rocky Mountain Health Maintenance Organization, Grand Junction, Colo. - $11, 878, 279

Enable robust collection of clinical data from health systems, providers, and hospitals in order to inform practice redesign to improve blood pressure control in patients with diabetes and hypertension, increase smoking cessation counseling, and reduce unnecessary emergency department utilization and hospital re-admissions.

Southern Piedmont Community Care Plan, Inc., Concord, N.C. - $15,907,622

Improve care coordination for patients with diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and asthma by engaging patients and providers in bidirectional data sharing through a Health Record Bank, empowering patients and family members to participate in self-management through patient portals, and expanding access to care managers to facilitate post-discharge planning.

The Regents of the University of California, San Diego, San Diego, Calif. - $15,275,115

Expand pre-hospital emergency field care and electronic information transmission to improve outcomes for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, empower patients to engage in their own health management through web portal and cellular telephone technology, and improve continuity of care for veterans and military personnel through the Veterans Affairs/Department of Defense Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record initiative.

University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hilo, Hawaii - $16,091, 390

Implement a region-wide Health Information Exchange and Patient Health Record solution and utilize secure, internet-based care coordination and tele-monitoring tools to increase access to specialty care for patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity in this rural, health-professional shortage area .

Western New York Clinical Information Exchange, Inc., Buffalo, N.Y. - $16,092,485

Utilize clinical decision support tools such as registries and point-of-care alerts and reminders and innovative telemedicine solutions to improve primary and specialty care for diabetic patients, decrease preventable emergency room visits, hospitalizations and re-admissions for patients with diabetes and congestive heart failure or pneumonia, and improve immunization rates among diabetic patients.