Beacon communities attaining 'clinical transformation' with health IT

The Beacon communities have done a good job in building and expanding their use of electronic health records and other health technologies to improve their clinical practices, according to a recently published report from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

The report, Evaluation of the Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program, examined the 17 Beacon communities to determine if and how they had experienced "clinical transformation" due to their implementation and expansion of health IT. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT had provided the awardees $250 million in funding to build and strengthen their health IT infrastructure. 

NORC found that the communities used health IT in clinical practice to improve the robustness of information accessible by clinicians and consumers. Health IT also was a "central element" in redesigning and streamlining clinical processes, such as using benchmarks.

Additionally, the communities leveraged existing resources and relationships to accelerate their clinical transformations through strategic health IT investments, such as building on current EHRs. The communities now have a "platform" to build and sustain long-term clinical transformation going forward, according to the researchers. 

EHRs and health IT are a major factor in payment reform. Many of the newer initiatives require the use of EHRs and clinical changes to coordinate care and measure outcomes.

However, several challenges were noted by the report's authors, such as problems engaging providers, legal and policy barriers to sharing data, lack of data exchange standards and training in health IT software. NORC also acknowledged that while there were some common best practices, such as the need for training, each community created the individual program that worked best for it.

"The Beacon Community Program envisioned the three years of project funding, technical assistance and collective learning for the 17 Communities as an investment in models of enhanced care delivery that: (1) would become organic features of local and regional healthcare ecology, and (2) could be adopted and adapted elsewhere. Each Beacon Community established its own distinctive activities and collaboration, followed its own path, and manifested its own legacy within its region," the report stated.

To learn more:
- read the report (.pdf)