Health Care Reform: HHS Beacon Program

by Admin on July 21, 2010 · 1 comment

in News, Tools

President Obama’s HiTech Act, enacted right after he took office, should produce a major transformation in American health care when it gets going. Along with the health care reform legislation that was dragged kicking and screaming through Congress last spring, the Act could put the planets in alignment for real change in the way care is delivered and paid for, and the way patient outcomes are achieved.

The HiTech Act specifies that every American should have an EHR (electronic health record) by 2014, and receive continuity of care through a regional Health Information Exchange. It even provides coverage for Geek Squads to help providers with the transition to EHRs: finding vendors, deployment, and identifying specific ways to advance care in their own practices. A first set of rules for what constitutes “meaningful use” of these information technology tools has just been released. So things are getting moving to give both patients and providers the information to make better health care choices. But…

These programs always sound good. For example, one new federal program, Beacon, looks at health system change at a community level in a group of demonstration communities, The communities that have been chosen as Beacons have already achieved a high level of EHR adoption and want to find out how they can use the information these records generate to improve health care. The stakeholders in these communities will come together, identify goals, and unleash a range of strategies in service of these goals.

But the programs requires the coming together of four largely separate tribes of crusaders for improvements in health care:

1) Quality improvement fanatics who want fewer accidents and bad outcomes in hospitals
2) Payment reformers who want to change reimbursement from volume to value
3) Consumer energizers who want consumers to be more involved in their own care, and to be given better information
4) Health IT evangelists who want to unleash futuristic tools and applications

For any of this to work, all these tribes have to work together, combining their perspectives and tools.

Fifteen demonstration communities with baseline high EHR adoption rates have already been chosen as Beacons. They’ve already been working through questions such as What do you want your community to look like in three years? Which patients do you want to achieve what outcomes (for example, care coordination for asthmatic children using range of Health IT tools to prevent hospitalizations)? And how do you measure whether you are getting anywhere?

Geisinger, one of the Beacons, is working through the process to get its outcomes identified first, then measures, then tools, then sustainability of its goals. It is trying to extend its best practices outside its boundaries.

It’s a laudable goal to deploy information technology in service of specific payment reforms and clinical reforms. What are the odds that this will succeed, however? Many people have broken their picks on the hard rock of true health care reform.

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