This article appears in the February 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
Millions of dollars continue to flow from Washington, DC, to communities across the country in the form of grants to so-called Beacon Communities, intended to serve as pilots and role models for how health information technology can be used to improve quality and care coordination. The federal government announced recently the award of $220 million to another 15 communities, and earlier recipients are reporting that the money can make a difference.
The Beacon grants can provide the necessary capital for improvements that many healthcare providers have on their wish list, the recipients say, but the money doesn't necessarily make the job easy.
Hawaii received a $16.1 million Beacon grant in May 2010 and used it to form the Hawaii Island Beacon Community with the goal of improving the health of the Hawaii island residents through implementation of healthcare system improvements and interventions across independent hospitals, physicians, and physician groups and in partnership with public and private health insurers. Engaging patients in their own healthcare is also a primary focus, says Susan B. Hunt, MHA, Beacon grant project director and CEO of HIBC.
Hunt says healthcare access is a significant challenge for the people of Hawaii County, also known as the Big Island. This population is served by 395 physicians, which is approximately 33% fewer physicians than is estimated to adequately serve the population. This shortage affects nearly all specialties, and patients experience long waits for an appointment to see a healthcare professional, particularly in primary care and specialty care.