Shining a Light on the Real Impacts of Health IT

Dec. 3, 2009

December 2, 2009

A Message from Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology

Today the administration announced the availability of $235 million in funds to support the Beacon Community Program.  The Beacon Community Program (BCP) will help to accelerate and demonstrate the ability of health IT to transform local health care systems, and to improve the lives of Americans and the performance of the health care providers who serve them.  The Program will take communities at the cutting edge of electronic health record (EHR) adoption and health information exchange and push them to a new level of health care quality and efficiency.  The resulting experience will inform efforts throughout the United States to support the meaningful use of EHRs, the primary goal of the Federal Government’s new health IT initiative.

$220M of the funds will support 15 communities, which are expected to have rates of EHR adoption that are significantly higher than published national estimates.  These communities are best positioned to lead the way in accomplishing meaningful use of EHRs and to provide valuable lessons to other localities on the preferred approaches to elevating the performance of local health systems using health IT.  An additional $15 million will subsequently support technical assistance to the communities and an independent evaluation of the program.

As part of the $220 million in cooperative agreements that will support the 15 chosen communities, recipients will be asked to define, track, and report on progress toward concrete, measurable health and efficiency goals that are related to EHR adoption and meaningful use.  These might include reductions in blood pressure among hypertensives, reduced blood sugar levels among diabetics, lower smoking levels, or reductions in health care disparities among populations.  The resulting data will provide information for mid-course corrections and will also help independent evaluations judge the success of the program.

In order to make maximum use of existing federal resources, Beacon Communities also will be expected wherever possible to tap into other existing federal programs that are working to promote health information exchange at the community level.  Close coordination with the Regional Extension Center Program, State Health Information Exchange Program, and the national Health Information Technology Research Center (HITRC), will ensure that lessons learned are shared for the benefit of all.  Beacon Communities are expected to maximize their efforts by leveraging other existing federal programs and resources that are working to promote health information exchange at the community level, including the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs development of a Virtual Lifetime Electronic Health Record (VLER) for all active duty, Guard and Reserve, retired military personnel, and eligible separated Veterans.

I’ve spoken often of my own experience with electronic health records in medical practice, and my resulting conviction that access to electronic health information at the point of care made me a better doctor, and helped my patients.  I’ve highlighted examples of health systems, large and small, urban and rural, that have experienced major improvements in care and reduced costs resulting from the use of EHR systems and health IT.  And I’ve shared the opinions of experts who conclude that the entry of the medical profession into the digital age is much needed, and long overdue.  The Beacon Community Program will enable us to test the capacity of health IT to accomplish this shared vision at an accelerated pace.  We hope these communities will truly prove beacons that the rest of our health system can use to guide our collective efforts to use information to improve the health and health care of Americans.

www.hhs.gov

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