8 lessons from a Beacon Community

Cathy Bruno offers eight lessons she and her team have learned
By Michelle McNickle
01:13 PM
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About a year and a half ago, the Bangor Beacon Community, in Bangor, Maine, was chosen as one of 17 national sites to receive a three-year federal grant. The Office of the National Coordinator awarded the organization $12.75 million with the hopes Bangor would use IT to improve the health of the population it serves.

Today, the Bangor Beacon Community, which comprises 12 partners throughout the state, has made noteworthy strides in improving quality and population health. So much so, in fact, that it’s easy to see where similar efforts can extend into non-Beacon Communities and improve the role of health IT nation wide.

Cathy Bruno, executive sponsor at Bangor Beacon Community, offers eight valuable lessons she and her team learned (and are still learning) while acting as a Beacon Community. 

1. Collaboration is key. According to Bruno, the community’s specific goals center on chronic diseases, such as diabetes and congestive heart failure. “We’re [addressing those needs] through care management and collaboration, and it’s all facilitated by health information technology and connected health records,” she said. The collaboration efforts within Bangor Beacon are “huge,” and “groundbreaking,” she said. “I’ve been here for seven years, and this is what’s impressed me most about Maine,” she said. “I think the competitive environment contributes to this, but here, there’s a history of collaboration. That was part of why we were picked as one of the 17 organizations.” 

[See also: Slideshow: The Bangor Beacon Community.]

2. Take the time to create goals. The Bangor Beacon Community's efforts can be summed up in a series of goals, said Bruno, and not just the goals the community was required to create. In fact, in addition to addressing chronic diseases, the community facilitated a statewide process of changing Maine laws. “We wanted to put mental health information into our health information exchange,” said Bruno. She continued by explaining that in addition to home health initiatives and counseling aspects, mental health was being measured through quality indicators. “That’s where our quality goal comes in,” she said. “We have a population health goal too, which is to improve immunization compliance among that same chronically ill population. And then we have a goal to reduce the number of ED visits for people with those diseases as well.” 

3. Measure results. The community enlisted the help of a study group to check specific quality indicators. “We also have a quality of life questionnaire,” said Bruno. “We’re looking at how they feel about themselves and their care, and we’re measuring those results.” She said the results are just starting to trickle in, and the community should have data to review within the next few months. The community also adheres to NCQA standards and uses those indicators throughout the team. “We took the quality indicators the NCQA had for patient-centered medical homes, and if there were quality indicators for the chronic diseases, we’d use those as well.” 

4. Be innovative and consistent. Bruno also added, though, that if there weren’t NCQA indicators for a certain aspect of the community, physician leaders got together from three main primary care practices and created their own standards. “There was a small team that made a decision that the clinical team would then approve,” she said. “If there were NCQA indicators, we would use those, but if not, they used their clinical judgment to decide what the goal should be.” 

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