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Beacon Communities: Bringing HITECH to Life

February 23, 2012
by Jennifer Prestigiacomo
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Leaders share HIT innovations at HIMSS12

At the Beacon Town Hall meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 23, at HIMSS12 in Las Vegas, federal representatives, as well as four Beacon Communities leaders shared the innovations that have been created in their communities as the result of Beacon Community Program.

Farzad Mostashari, M.D., the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at the ONC, said that Beacon Communities made it as clear as possible what healthcare IT is all about and provided valuable lessons about how to accomplish change. “The Beacon spirit is to do whatever it takes to get the job done,” he said. “There is a hunger out there to do things differently.”

The Beacon Community Program began in 2010 to fund 17 selected communities throughout the U.S. that had already made inroads in the development of secure, private systems of electronic health record (EHR) adoption and health information exchange (HIE). These communities are actively blazing new trails using health IT to improve quality, cost, and population health.

Jason Kunzman, project officer at ONC, said the commonalities of the Beacon Communities were their strong partnerships and collective vision in engaging consumers, developing workflow efficiencies, and extending care beyond traditional healthcare boundaries.

Christie North, vice president, HealthInsight, and executive lead of the Utah Beacon Community, called IC3, said, “We’re building better health in our community based on technology.” A primary focus of IC3 is building meaningful processes and testing innovations in diabetes care, she said.

“Minnesota has done some really neat things in terms of improving quality of life, or at least measuring quality of life, so we can make interventions and see if it made it better,” said North. “So we’re going to steal that—that is what Farzad was referring to, stealing shamelessly from one another. And that’s what the Beacons are about, ‘we’ll test it and spread it to one another.’”

She also mentioned that her community was focusing on patient engagement, having launched its consumer facing website,, and through mobile technology. Its Care for Life app sends text reminders to diabetics to test their A1C levels, exercise, and eat right.

Lacey Hart, program director Southeastern Minnesota Beacon Community in Rochester, said that her largely rural community was starting a unique program to share student health information like allergies and immunizations with schools, so the school nurse can know when a student hasn’t set primary care appointments. “You can then refer into public health when you need to intervene with the family to get them assistance,” said Hart. “You can actually immunize children and give them their flu shot at school and get a much higher percentage rate than getting them in the clinic office.”

Southeastern Minnesota Beacon is focusing on medication reconciliation in the home via its public health departments that are parsing and consuming data through CCDs. Client managers are deployed to assess patients and the medications they are taking. “This process actually saves lives because when patients go home with their medications, but they don’t understand what they should stop taking, as opposed to what they should be taking,” said Hart. “So this is a way to intervene prior to them going to the emergency room.”

Ted Chan, M.D., a practicing cardiologist at the UCSD Department of Emergency Medicine and San Diego Beacon Community program lead, said that his community just connected its HIE with the VA through the Nationwide Health Information Network (NwHIN) that day. He also noted that his community was demonstrating CONNECT and Direct exchanges in the Interoperability Showcase.

Chan also shared the in-depth work his Beacon has been doing with providing EMS operators with an electronic platform to allow them to view EKGs in the field to help positively affect treatment and reduce “door to balloon” time. He added that his community was working on bringing together the wireless transmissions of cardiac rhythm monitors into the HIE, so physicians can see multiple monitor vendors with just clicking one button instead of viewing in separate portals.

The MyHealth Access Network Beacon Community in Tulsa, Okla., is working on aggregating clinical health information within its HIE for advanced analytics. “No one wants to buy infrastructure, they’re just not willing to do that, but what they are willing to buy is applications, something they can use every day to improve health and meets a specific need for them,” David Kendrick, M.D., CEO, MyHealth Access Network.