Cincinnati Beacon Project Boosts Diabetes Outcomes, Faces Hurdles

May 9, 2014 in News

Although the Cincinnati Beacon Community project has helped to improve patient care, organizers faced several health IT challenges, according to an article released this month in Health Affairs, FierceHealthIT reports (Hall, FierceHealthIT, 5/8).

Program Details

The federal government distributed grants to 17 U.S. communities to participate in the Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program, which aimed to demonstrate how health IT could bolster health care.

Cincinnati, Ohio, received $13.7 million as part of the program. The Cincinnati program was scheduled to last for 31 months. It involved:

  • Hundreds of physicians;
  • 87 primary care physician practices;
  • 18 large hospital partners; and
  • Seven federally qualified health centers and community health centers.

The Cincinnati program aimed to construct a health IT infrastructure that would support quality improvement through data exchange, registries and alerts that notified primary care facilities when a patient was admitted to an emergency department or hospital (Fairbrother et al., Health Affairs, May 2014).

Program Findings

An analysis of publicly reported data — conducted halfway through the program’s implementation — found that a diabetes composite score had improved by 32% for practices linked to the Beacon Community, compared with just 11% among unaffiliated practices.

In addition, leaders across 19 practices that focus on diabetes improvement — and which were designated as patient-centered medical homes during the program — said that the effort improved care in sustainable ways.

However, leaders also identified several unexpected hurdles, such as:

  • Taking 10 months — one-third of the project’s overall timeline — to get full support for the data-sharing plan;
  • Difficulty importing and extracting data into electronic health record systems; and
  • Trouble adapting EHR systems to support quality improvements.

The EHR-related issues eventually forced project leaders to drop plans for a community-wide summary patient record, according to FierceHealthIT.

Overall, leaders said the project’s two main lessons were:

  • Project delays are inevitable and should be accounted for in project timelines; and
  • Integrating technology into quality improvement requires appropriate protocols, tool kits and assistance designed to help support individual practices (FierceHealthIT, 5/8).
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