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Beacon Community Program Winding Down, But Participants Create Framework for Other Reform Efforts

May 22, 2013
by David Raths
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Patrick Gordon

The Beacon Community Program launched by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT winds down in 2013. This week representatives from the 17 Beacon communities met in Washington, D.C., to share their experiences and discuss how their work will serve as the scaffolding for further clinical and payment reform efforts.

Patrick Gordon, executive director of the Colorado Beacon Consortium, said the gains made in his community depended on much more than technology. It was really about a broad-based approach to skills development in the use of data and measurement’s role in improvement. “Technology is important, but the development of the workforce is essential,” he said. “Advanced analytics are exciting, but unless you create human capital to drive that forward and drive adoption, it’s very difficult to get engagement. So we must continue our investment in workforce development. As our knowledge base builds up, it can drive change at an accelerated pace.”

The other key to success was to develop a collaborative learning model, that enabled the community to move from progress on a case-by-case basis to something region-wide and self-sustainable, Gordon said. “We have engaged half the primary care provider base caring for more than half the region’s population, and we are moving on to more sophisticated objectives in population health management and participating in the Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative. We think that will be a powerful force for change in terms of how patients experience care in Western Colorado.”

The Beacon grant was helpful, Gordon added, but the key is the willingness to start. “We will continue to work on successor projects as the Beacon comes to a close and we hope to learn from others in the same space.”

In a panel discussion responding to Gordon’s presentation, Asaf Bitton M.D., M.P.H., an instructor in medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and instructor in health care policy at Harvard Medical School, said that the most important thing about the Beacons is that they are a community of change agents acting as receptor sites for the next wave of initiatives, such as accountable care organizations.  “We have to get out of the academic mindset of measuring this as an intervention with a time start and time end and looking at short-term metrics,” he says. “The time horizon is not limited by the end of the Beacons, but is instead moving to where we are continuously learning and improving.”

Interactions between ACOs and Beacons have been important in further development of both, said Mark McClellan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at the Brookings Institution. He cited as an example the work done by the Beacon and HIE in Eastern Maine to better care for high-risk patients by providing more timely and more complete information. He also mentioned that the Indiana Beacon is now implementing a program to make available hospital admission, discharge, and transferinformation that ACOs need. “They have created a subscription service that seems to be working,” he said.

One way the Beacons hope to translate their experiences and lessons learned into actionable information that can be adapted for use by other communities is through the creation of Learning Guides.

Each Learning Guide includes implementation objectives and supporting tactics for success, patient and community stories, resource and cost considerations, and other reference documents that can help communities launch and build similar, but locally specific, programs.  The first one developed describes approaches for implementing automated alerts based on hospital admission, discharge, and transfer (ADT) events. The guide is designed for communities working on improving chronic disease care and reducing unnecessary hospital utilization.