Beacon is a community-based program to spotlight a variety of “best practice” approaches to improving health and health care delivery in the United States. Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, the Beacon Communities [see the Beacon videos] are a series of medical practice and research coalitions focusing on specific health conditions in their areas and utilizing and developing efficient systems based on their foundational expertise.
Overall, each Beacon program seeks to:
- Improve quality, safety, efficiency, and reduce health disparities
- Engage patients and their families in their health care
- Improve health care coordination
- Improve public health and the health of the community’s population
- Ensure privacy and security protections for personal health information
Beacon in Minnesota
The Southeast Minnesota Beacon Community consists of eleven counties, their public health offices, many health care providers, and school districts. Principal collaborating institutions and recipients of the $12.3 million Beacon grant include Austin Medical Center, Mayo Health System; Mayo Clinic; Olmsted Medical Center; and Winona Health Services.
In southeastern Minnesota, Beacon will focus on two health conditions: childhood asthma and adult Type II diabetes. Both are highly prevalent conditions that are on the rise and that are associated with increased health care costs, restricted lives, downstream illnesses and complications, and loss of time at work or school.
The goal is to understand the scope of these two public health problems, obtain accurate patient counts to best determine how people are being served and how many are underserved in some way. Another goal is to connect all the health care systems that come in contact with these patients in some way. A major effort in Beacon in Minnesota is to use information technology to create a communication system for coordinating and improving care.
Watch the SE Minnesota Beacon video.
For example, Beacon wants to connect school nurses, county public health nurses, and local clinics and hospitals so that treatment – especially for chronic problems — does not happen in isolation. This type of health care continuity is valuable not only during major public health outbreaks, such as the flu, but is equally important for cost-effective and efficient management of disease trends, such as asthma and diabetes. Both are conditions that require long-term attention, maintenance care, and, at times, intervention. The objective of Beacon is to enable continuity and state-of-the-art practices as part of that continuing care – whether it is education, monitoring, applying new technology or tools, or social support. Two key concepts here are communication and coordination – and they are at the center of the Beacon program. A third, is community. Beacon is clearly not about any single entity or organization, but about the patients and the families being served. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, there is a sense here that it takes a community to keep one healthy.
With strong local engagement, Beacon will improve local health, reduce lost time at work or school, and reduce hospital and doctor visits or emergency interventions.
The systems, processes and platforms Beacon achieves with diabetes and asthma can be applied to other health conditions as well. The long-term effect will be a healthier population and a healthier environment, whether in the schools or broader community.
While the Southeast Minnesota Beacon Community will be able to point to overall improvements from the coalition’s effort, so will individual counties and communities. The patients involved should experience some of the best care and support for their condition in the nation. Ultimately, much of the geographic area involved will have a state-of-the-science data, information and communication support system for health care. That will include electronic health records, databases, information technology systems and software, and, in some areas, enhanced and expanded telemedicine platforms and networks.
All improvements, whether in patient health, public health or health care systems, will be measurable, documented and reported.