"Beacon communities" will be models for health information technology

Fifteen regions that have widespread EMR use and have exchanged data across geographic sectors will get federal grants to help others replicate their success.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Dec. 18, 2009

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The Dept. of Health and Human Services announced that an additional $235 million will be invested in advancing health information technology.

The grants will create "beacon communities" that will serve as examples of successful health IT adoption and a source of information for others looking to replicate their efforts. These 15 communities will be led by new or existing nonprofit or government entities that serve a specific geographic region, both rural and urban, including underserved areas.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the project will help provide answers on the best way to implement electronic medical records and health information data exchanges across the country.

David Blumenthal, MD, national coordinator for health information technology, said the grants will not go to individual health care systems or institutions. Rather, they will go to communities to develop health information exchange infrastructures that involve all area health facilities.

Communities will be chosen for their ability to demonstrate successful EMR deployment and exchange of data across geographic regions. They will differ from regional extension centers, for which HHS made available $1.2 billion earlier this year. The extension centers provide direct assistance to individual practices and health care facilities looking to adopt health information technology.

Dr. Blumenthal said the beacon communities will work closely with the extension centers. They also will work with state health information exchanges and leverage other federal programs, such as the U.S. Dept. of Defense and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, which have a connected electronic health records system for veterans and military personnel across the country.

Dr. Blumenthal said some large health organizations, such as Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, Kaiser Permanente and the VA, are inspiring examples of successful adoption of health information technology. "But we haven't had a city or a town or a country that has completely ... elevated its performance using electronic health records."

He said the beacon communities and regional extension centers are among a series of programs that HHS is launching to promote EMR adoption. The agency also made available $80 million in grants aimed at community colleges implementing health IT training programs. Funds were authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

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