Blumenthal Letter #14: Beacon Communities Lead the Charge to Improve Health Outcomes

Establishing Beacons for Nationwide Advances in Health IT
Emailed May 5, 2010 

Dr. David Blumenthal

Dr. David Blumenthal

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

Healthcare professionals appreciate opportunities to learn from innovative colleagues and communities – to see what really works, to get “boots-on-the-ground” perspectives, to learn best practices, and to use the experience of other leaders to inform how to improve performance more broadly.    

The Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program, by its very design, was intended to shine a spotlight on health information technology (health IT) innovators, so that we all might learn from them. Today, Secretary Sebelius awarded $220 million to establish 15 Beacon Communities throughout America. These community consortia – selected from 130 applicants – have demonstrated leadership in developing advanced health IT solutions to help improve specific health outcomes. They also share a strong conviction in the benefits of health IT as a critical pillar to advance broad and sustainable health system improvement. The average award amount is $15 million over 36 months.    

The Beacon Community awards recognize collaborative community efforts operating at the cutting edge of health IT and health care delivery system innovation. Beacon Communities will implement a range of care delivery innovations building on existing infrastructure of interoperable health IT and standards-based information exchange, in coordination with the Regional Extension Center Program and State Health Information Exchange Program.  

In addition, the program will help Beacon Communities plan and develop new initiatives that can ensure the longer-term sustainability of health IT-enabled improvements in health care quality, safety, efficiency, and population health. This includes preparing for future policy changes resulting from enactment of health care reform legislation that will permit providers, states, and regional health care organizations to test new payment methods emphasizing improvements in quality and value.  

Like so many other providers who effectively implement health IT, Beacon Communities will leverage other existing federal programs and resources to promote health information exchange at the community level. These resources include:  

  • Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER)  program, which aims to develop a longitudinal electronic health record for all active duty, Guard and Reserve, retired military personnel, and eligible separated Veterans
  • Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) programs at federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and Health Center Controlled Networks (HCCNs) to advance the adoption of certified electronic health records and exchange of health information
  • Department of Agriculture and Department of Commerce efforts to extend broadband infrastructure

The partnership with applicable VLER, FQHC, and HCCN sites is particularly important to ensure we realize measurable and tangible results in federally funded, military, and private sector health care settings alike.
I am particularly pleased by the diversity among Beacon awardees:  geographically, they span the continental United States and reach as far as Hawaii; both urban and rural communities are well represented; and targeted program outcomes span some of America’s most pressing health concerns, from reducing medication errors and improving the care of individuals with cardiovascular disease to reducing disparities in access and outcomes for patients with diabetes. Additionally, the programs bring health IT innovation to a variety of underserved populations to address health disparities and improve patient care. The Beacon Communities demonstrate that health IT can bring meaningful change to health care for all Americans — not just the healthiest, wealthiest, or best insured.  

I extend my sincere congratulations to our 15 Beacon Communities. Your work inspires me, and I believe that in the coming months, it will inspire and inform America’s medical and health IT communities.  

David Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.P.
National Coordinator for Health Information Technology
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services  

“The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) encourages you to share this information as we work together to enhance the quality, safety and value of care and the health of all Americans through the use of electronic health records and health information technology.”
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See post on e-Healthcare Marketing with full statement from White House listing recipients and the focus of the award for each.

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