HHS issues $235M in IT grants for "beacon communities"

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Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and National Health IT Coordinator David Blumenthal, MD, this week announced the availability of $235 million in grants for “beacon communities” to act as models for health IT implementation.

Funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), the Beacon Community Program plans to build and strengthen health IT infrastructure and health information exchange capabilities, including strong privacy and security measures for data exchange within 15 communities.

At a press conference, Sebelius stated that these beacon communities are on the forefront of health IT and that they will help answer the question: “What health benefits will we get when we make significant, concentrated investments in health IT?”

Blumenthal clarified that $220 million is set for cooperative agreements, $10 million for evaluation funds and $5 million for technical assistance to communities.

In response to a question concerning the nature of the evaluation funds, Blumenthal stated that “[w]e want to learn from these examples, so we want to know who’s succeeding and why, [and] derive lessons that can be communicated to other communities that will accelerate their progress towards improving healthcare using EHRs.”

Cooperative agreements will be awarded to qualified nonprofit organizations or government entities representing diverse geographic areas, including rural and underserved communities. To qualify for the Beacon Community Program, applicants are expected to:

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