Feds name last two Health IT grant recipients

Detroit and Cincinnati will get millions of dollars for chronic disease care

The federal government today announced the final two communities that will receive grant money to help them update their IT infrastructures to better share information related to the care of chronically ill patients.

Detroit and Cincinnati today joined 15 other communities getting millions of dollars in Beacon Community Program grant money.

"These are not grants about technology so much as they're grants about using technology to improve health care," said David Blumenthal, M.D., national coordinator for Health Information Technology. "Information technology can facilitate the sharing of information for care coordination. But unless you take the step of assuring that information is used, it won't provide benefit. So we're asking communities to develop systems of care coordination that build on that information sharing."

Speaking in April at a Health IT conference in Boston, Blumenthal said that 130 counties had applied for the Beacon Community Grant, which provides $220 million to build out health IT infrastructures and regional information exchange capabilities.

The Beacon Grant money is being distributed by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and focuses on helping hospitals and other health facilities use the National Health Information Network (NHIN). The network is a set of standards, services and policies that enable secure health information exchange over the Internet.

The latest awards will go to Greater Cincinnati HealthBridge Inc. in Cincinnati and Southeastern Michigan Health Association in Detroit; they will receive $13.8 million and $16.2 million, respectively.

Blumenthal said the primary method for helping chronically ill patients is by sharing information among general practitioners, specialists, nurses and other health professionals involved in a patient's care. Because so many hospitals and other health care facilities have relied on paper records to document care, chronic illness treatment has been extraordinarily labor intensive, he said.

"If you need to move around a paper record to achieve shared information and care coordination it's always going to be harder and more expensive," Blumenthal said. "IT can circulate that information, as well as the communications needed to use it. It can make available secure e-mail and the sharing of X-ray images and physician progress notes to let others know about the logic involved in the decisions."

HealthBridge, a nonprofit health information exchange, serves a 16-county area spanning three states surrounding greater Cincinnati. Under the Beacon program, HealthBridge and its partners will use its advanced health information exchange program to develop new quality improvement and care coordination initiatives focusing on patients with pediatric asthma and adult diabetes, and on those looking to quit smoking.

The Southeastern Michigan Health Association (SMHA), a consortium led by the Southeast Michigan Health Information Exchange, serves the greater Detroit area. It will use the money to deploy health IT and promulgate strategies to prevent and better manage diabetes. In 2006, diabetes was the sixth leading cause of death in Michigan.

According to the ONC, Beacon projects are expected to initially create dozens of new jobs in each of the communities getting grants, with pay averaging $70,000 a year. The projects could eventually create 1,100 jobs and speed the development of a nationwide health IT infrastructure.

The other communities that have received Beacon program funding include Tulsa, Okla.; Stoneville, Miss.; Brewer, Maine; Danville, Pa.; Salt Lake City; Indianapolis; Spokane, Wash.; New Orleans; Rochester, Minn.; Providence, R.I.; Grand Junction, Colo.; Concord, N.C.; San Diego; Hilo, Hawaii; and Buffalo, N.Y.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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