Just this week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Dr. David Blumenthal announced plans to establish nationwide Health IT “Beacon Communities.”  $235 million dollars have been allocated to fund the program through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The program’s mission is to accelerate the adoption of HIT, and prove its effectiveness in transforming the quality, efficiency, and financial viability of local healthcare systems. The initiative will distribute $220 million in grants among 15 selected U.S. communities. For the 36-month program, the communities will use these funds to build and strengthen HIT infrastructure and capacity for health information exchange. The federal government is communicating that extreme caution should be taken in building an infrastructure with strong privacy and security measures for data exchange.  The 15 communities will receive an additional $15 million for technical assistance and program evaluation.

“Health information technology will make our health care system more efficient and improve care for every American,” Secretary Sebelius said.  “The Beacon Community Program is a critical step forward as we work to expand the use of health information technology in hospitals and doctor’s offices across the country.” 

One of the major goals of this program is to obtain evaluation measures that show vast improvements in health care quality, safety, efficiency, and population health. It is hoped that this data will be useful in informing more expansive efforts to adopt ‘meaningful use’ of EHRs throughout the United States.

A Beacon Community may represent a collective group of stakeholders and health care providers; however, the lead applicant must be a U.S.-based, non-profit organization or a government entity falling into one of the following five categories:

  1. State, local, tribal, or territorial government entity with a public health focus
  2. Integrated delivery network or health system with broad community partnerships
  3. Independent physician association or consortium of medical groups
  4. Public/Private partnership aimed at health system improvement and/or community health improvement
  5. ONC-funded regional extension center with the capacity to expand its services

To qualify for the Beacon Community Program, applicants are expected to:

  • Build off of existing health IT infrastructure and exchange to demonstrate care and cost savings;
  • Have rates of EHR adoption that are significantly higher than published national estimates; and,
  • Coordinate with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) programs for Regional Extension Centers and State Health Information Exchange to develop and disseminate best practices for adoption and meaningful use of EHRs to support national goals for widespread use of health IT.

“The Beacon Community Program will help provide more hard evidence that health IT exchange can make a significant and positive difference in the delivery and value of care,” stated Dr. Blumenthal. 

Applications are due on February 1, 2010, and awards for the Beacon Communities are expected to be announced by March 2010. For more information, please refer to the HHS Beacon Community Program webpage: http://healthit.hhs.gov/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=1422&parentname=CommunityPage&parentid=102&mode=2&in_hi_userid=11113&cached=true