HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology have just announced that $235 million is available to support the “Beacon Community Program” (BCP). The goal for the BCP is to enable communities at the cutting edge of electronic health record adoption to use the funds to move their communities forward to a new level of healthcare quality and efficiency.
The program funded by ARRA, will have $220 million available to support communities that can expect EHR adoption rates to be significantly higher than published national estimates. According to Dr. Blumenthal these communities are best positioned to lead the way in accomplishing meaningful use of EHRs and to help other localities start using health IT. The additional $15 million will provide technical assistance to the communities and evaluate the program.
The chosen communities and their recipients of the funding will be asked to define, track, and report on the progress they are making towards meeting measurable goals related to EHR adoption. The data reported by the communities may include data on reductions in blood pressure, reduced blood sugar levels among diabetics, lower smoking levels, or reductions in healthcare disparities among populations.
Cooperative agreements will be awarded to 15 qualified non-profit organizations or government entities representing diverse geographic areas to include rural and underserved communities. To qualify for the program, applicants are expected to build off of existing health IT infrastructure and demonstrate care and cost savings. They will also need to coordinate activities with the ONC programs that include Regional Extension Centers, State Health Information Exchange Programs and the National Health Information Technology Research Center. Information on the cooperative agreement applications will be available at http://HealthIT.HHS.gov.
HHS is also funding several grant programs to help educate professionals in the HIT field. One program called the “Community College Consortia to Educate Health Information Technology Professionals” is making $70 million available to create health IT education and training programs at community colleges.
Another HHS funding program with $10 million will go to help institutions of higher education support health information technology curriculum development. Up to 5 grant awards will be awarded to support curriculum development primarily at the community college level to use for workforce training.