Early Lessons from Beacon Communities: Factors Needed for Regional Health Improvement
What can happen when a community, enabled by a strong foundation of health information technology (health IT), rallies around specific health care and health improvement goals? The Beacon Community Program, an initiative launched by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), seeks to answer this question.
In May 2010, following a competitive selection process, 17 Beacon Communities were awarded cooperative agreement grants to demonstrate three core aims:
1. Build and strengthen a health IT foundation to support long-term improvements in quality of care, health outcomes, and cost efficiencies;
2. Demonstrate improvements in cost, quality, and health through the benefits of widespread health IT adoption and exchange of health information, and reforms enabled by health IT; and
3. Test and disseminate new innovations to improve health and health care.
To help achieve these objectives, Beacon Communities have established an implementation framework to guide their work. In the health policy journal Health Affairs , the Beacon team at ONC outlined key features present across all Beacon Communities during the first six months of the program. Despite the great degree of diversity in health objectives, experiences and geography across the Beacon Communities, we highlighted six interdependent features that set the foundation for regional health improvement initiatives.
In the early stages of the program, Beacon Communities:
1. Established a clear definition of the “community” to identify the population of focus;
2. Created or adapted local governance structures to include the interests of diverse groups, including care providers, patients, hospitals, employers, insurers, and public officials in making major decisions;
3. Identified specific health and health care improvement objectives to determine a strategy for achieving success, including determining how to use resources and manage potential partner disagreements;
4. Set performance measures and feedback systems to analyze their progress against defined objectives;
5. Designed multiple clinical interventions and technology strategies to achieve defined objectives; and
6. Created rapid-cycle learning strategies to improve their work on an on-going basis.
The article explores in greater depth each of the six characteristics, including areas that have posed the greatest challenge thus far for the Beacon Community Program. This article reflects the beginning of what will become an increasing number of opportunities for drawing attention to the work and the lessons learned in Beacon Communities.