Future Health IT Networks Will Include ‘Interventions’ – Such As Text-Message Reminders to Patients

By Matt Cover | December 8, 2011 | 9:51 AM EST

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, part of the Department of Health and Human Services (shown here), says its Beacon Communities program serves as a model for what an eventual nationwide electronic health network will look like. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration on Wednesday outlined its goals for achieving better health care through technology.

The goals include so-called interventions in which health care providers reach out to patients through text messaging, for example, to remind them to monitor their blood sugar, take their medicine, or quit smoking.

As part of its plan to develop a nationwide network of health information technology, the Obama administration has designated 17 “Beacon Communities” to serve as models for the rest of the nation.

Beacon Communities are local health care provider networks in various parts of the country that have signed up for a federally-funded program that aids them in developing the health IT networks they already have in place. The multi-million-dollar grants awarded to the Beacon Communities were funded by the 2009 stimulus bill.

At a webinar on Wednesday, Craig Brammer, director of the Beacon Communities program for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), said the program serves as an “accelerant” for health IT:  “It’s a project targeted at 17 communities, but our aim is to disseminate the work more broadly so others benefit from this investment as well,” he said.

Brammer, outlining where the program would go in its remaining two years, said the overall goal is not just to study new technologies, but to transform how health care is delivered in America.

For 2012 and 2013, Brammer said the Beacon projects would begin conducting so-called interventions – reaching out to patients through technology to remind them to monitor their blood sugar, take their medicine, or quit smoking, for example.

One such intervention on display at the webinar was from the Salt Lake City project. That intervention used a voluntary text-messaging system that sent reminders to patients to take their diabetes medicine regularly or to help them quit smoking.

Other interventions were more technical in nature, including keeping better track of patients being discharged from the hospital, training doctors and nurses to use standardized reporting practices for high risk patients, and generating cost and quality data for all patients in the system.

“The point here is that this not an IT project, this is a clinical transformation initiative that is IT-enabled,” Brammer said.

In other words, the administration believes that the free flow of key medical data – through technology -- will improve the way care is delivered.

Brammer said as the Beacon Communities develop their health information networks, the government hopes to link them up with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which plans to use Medicare’s market power to force down health care costs.

Brammer said that ONS already has deployed a program that allows the Beacon networks to measure the type of health care information that CMS needs in order to monitor health care costs.

The government needs to be able to collect this data so it can track whether costs are too high or whether patients have been given duplicative procedures the government doesn’t want to pay for.

Under to a provision in the 2009 stimulus law, all health care providers are supposed to adopt Electronic Health Records (EHR) for their patients by 2014, or face a fine from the government in the form of reduced Medicare payments.

EHRs are the backbone of any health IT system and will be the genesis point of any health care data collected or measured by such a system. By 2014, providers will need to have networks in place – like those in the federally-funded Beacon Communities – that can develop and share information contained in an EHR.