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HHS Awards $220 Million For Health IT

The Beacon Communities, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, aim to showcase how health IT can improve the care of patients nationwide.

The federal government Tuesday announced the award of $220 million in grants to 15 so-called Beacon Communities that will serve as pilots and role models for the widespread use of health IT to improve the care of patients across the U.S., including those with chronic illnesses.

The Beacon Community program, funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is also expected to create thousands of new jobs, many paying an average of $70,000 annually in each of the communities, according to an announcement by the White House, which included statements by vice president Joe Biden and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The 15 communities awarded Beacon grants averaging about $15 million were chosen from 130 applications. An additional $30 million is still available for further Beacon awards in the near future, said the White House.

Each of the communities is expected to build on existing infrastructures of interoperable health IT standards, as well as tap into other federal programs that aim to extend the use of health IT, including the Regional Extension Center Program. The Regional Extension Center Program is another ARRA-funded effort that's setting up training and best practices centers nationwide to help healthcare providers implement e-medical records and other health IT systems.

"These pioneering [Beacon] communities are going to lead the way in bringing smarter, lower-cost healthcare to all Americans through use of electronic health records," Biden said in the statement.

"Because of their early efforts, doctors across the country will one day be able to coordinate patient care with the stroke of a key or pull up life-saving health information instantly in an emergency -- and for the residents of these communities, that future is about to become a reality," said Biden.

"Beacon Communities will offer insight into how health IT can make a real difference in the delivery of healthcare," said Sebelius in the statement. "The Beacon Community Program will tap the best ideas across America and demonstrate the enormous benefit health IT will have to improving health and care within our communities."

Among the communities awarded Beacon funding is a $12 million grant to Community Services Council of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Tulsa community is dealing with "an epidemic" of obesity and type-2 diabetes and has the highest rate of cardiovascular disease deaths in the nation, according to the White House.

The Tulsa award will help 1,600 physicians and other providers participate in a new community-wide health information system to monitor and improve care transitions as patients move from one care setting to another, said the White House.

The grant is expected to help increase cancer screenings, increase access to care for patients with diabetes via telemedicine, and reduce preventable hospitalizations and emergency department visits by 10%, according to the White House. Those moves could yield potential cost savings of $11 million per year in the Tulsa area for taxpayers and patients, according to the White House.

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