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ONC Beacon Program Highlights EHR Adoption, Use Challenges

A report on the ONC Beacon Community Program gives insights into EHR adoption, and the challenges that come along with it.

By Sara Heath

A research program out of the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT (ONC) offers insights into how communities use health IT and EHR adoption to achieve the triple aim of better care, better costs, and overall better patient health.

Launched in 2010, the Beacon Community Program provided $250 million in grants to each of 17 communities to examine how these communities adopt EHRs and other health IT to better their overall healthcare structure.

In an after-the-fact analysis of the program, NORC at the University of Chicago found that many of these communities faced similar challenges that other healthcare systems face when adopting their health IT. Between technology, provider engagement and buy-in, and legal and policy barriers, these Beacon Programs painted a fairly accurate picture of the struggles of health IT adoption across the entire nation.

NORC found that overall, most of the hospitals in each Beacon Community faced typical technological issues, including interoperability and infrastructure issues. Smaller providers were hit particularly hard, especially financially. The healthcare industry as of present tells a similar story, with smaller providers lagging slightly in EHR adoption and often struggling to implement best strategies.

Providers building their Beacon-funded health IT off of pre-existing infrastructure saw more success, as well those organizations that had previously engaged in similar health IT adoption initiatives.

Provider buy-in, a well-known issues throughout the nation, also posed a challenge to the Beacon Communities. It is no secret that many providers struggle with their EHRs, and there is notable EHR backlash throughout the healthcare industry. Likewise, the Beacon Communities faced these struggles.

To overcome them, some healthcare organizations developed a four-pronged strategy.

“To engage providers in clinical transformation efforts in a meaningful way, nine Beacon Communities provided feedback and assistance to providers on: (1) meeting clinical performance metrics to help physicians conduct quality improvement; (2) extracting data from their EHRs; (3) collecting and harmonizing data across disparate EHR systems; and (4) using third-party aggregation platforms to collect data and provide reports,” the NORC report explained.

Beacon Communities were also bogged down by legal and policy limitations, specifically in data sharing. Between stringent laws regarding data exchange for behavioral and mental health data to patient buy-in, a great sum of healthcare organizations in the Beacon Communities were limited in the amount of data able to be stored in a data repository.

To attempt to mitigate these legal and administrative roadblocks, many healthcare organizations employed legal representatives.

“Negotiating necessary legal agreements and meeting administrative requirements proved to be more time consuming than Beacon Communities anticipated,” the NORC report noted. “In response, Communities found they needed to engage legal representatives and key decision makers to work through the issues.”

Additionally, some organizations created designated individuals to help educate patients and lead them to opt into securely sharing their health data in a data repository.

Going forward, the Beacon Community Program determined three overarching lessons learned for fellow and future EHR and health IT adopters. Specifically, these programs showed that healthcare organizations need to quickly address IT issues, and uses the resolutions to help providers see patient-centered value in the technology.

Second, healthcare organization leaders and executives need to be present in helping providers and patients buy into the process. Through their leadership, key stakeholders may be more easily convinced of the benefits of these technologies.

Finally, in order to be most successful at EHR and health IT adoption initiatives, healthcare organizations should align their efforts to with past initiatives to show value and continuity to key stakeholders such as providers and patients.




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