Beacon communities show 'mixed progress' on healthcare use, quality measures

The Beacon communities had "mixed progress" on healthcare use and quality measures, according to a final report from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

The new report summarizes the findings of NORC's four-year evaluation of the Beacon Community Program. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT funded the NORC study.

The Beacon Community Program was formed in 2010, and included 17 communities that would serve as examples for the country on electronic health record adoption and health information exchange to improve care quality and efficiency.

The authors of this final report say the program proved successful on two fronts--performance metrics and sustained HIE infrastructure. However, there are still challenges.

"Communities varied in the degree to which they collaboratively sustained their investments in shared resources for HIE following the end of Beacon funding," the authors write, adding that "challenges stemming from provider readiness, legal and policy constraints and the technologies used hindered communities' efforts in critical ways."

From its findings, the NORC report also outlined recommendations, some of which include:

  • It takes time: The time it takes for programs to show a real impact on cost, quality and outcomes "is not trivial," the authors write. They add that even the communities that already have advanced EHRs and HIE readiness needed "significant time" for real progress to be made.
  • Interoperability a "formidable" challenge: Workarounds or customized ways to enable interoperability took up significant time and resources, the report states. Federal agencies and the government should work to provide funding for tech assessments for delivery system redesign, spur adoption of interoperability standards and help the communities engage with industry representatives to address a lack of standards, the authors said.
  • Federal action necessary: "Opportunity and need are ripe for federal efforts to support alignment of local and regional efforts to strengthen health IT infrastructure for clinical transformation," the authors write. In addition, aligning regional and federal efforts would "protect and nurture federal investments in health IT infrastructure and systems," they add.

To leverage the information that has come out of the Beacon program, the ONC announced in February that it will put $1.7 million toward funding a community health peer learning program.

To learn more:
- here is the report (.pdf)