Nationwide, communities are undertaking efforts at clinical transformation, delivery system reform, and health improvement, leveraging health information technology (health IT) as they do so. In order to support these communities as they build and strengthen their health IT infrastructure and capabilities, in 2010 the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) launched the Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program (Beacon Community Program). The Beacon Community Program provides roughly $12—15 million in funding (over a three year period) to each of 17 communities across the United States. The goals of the participating Beacon Communities are to improve care coordination, increase quality of care, and slow the growth of health care spending. With support from The Commonwealth Fund, AcademyHealth is working with the Beacon Communities through the Beacon Evidence and Innovation Network (BEIN), a program to support the Beacon Communities in their efforts to generate more and better evidence on their impact. Early in the project, AcademyHealth staff undertook a series of semi-structured interviews with Beacon Community evaluation team members to learn about their proposed interventions and evaluation designs, and to identify potential areas where AcademyHealth could offer technical assistance. These conversations resulted in a Commonwealth Fund Issue Brief, released this week. The issue brief details various study designs, evaluation approaches, outcome measures, and data sources being used by the Beacon Communities. Most Beacon Communities are targeting their efforts to one or more chronic diseases, such as diabetes or asthma. The community-level nature of the intervention is an opportunity for a variety of stakeholders to work together to design interventions that specifically respond to the health needs of their populations. The Beacon Communities encountered a variety of challenges as they planned their evaluation designs, and the issue brief highlights several of these, including: establishing governance models, determining baseline measures, and assessing impact in a relatively constrained timeframe. For example, several Communities noted that the process of putting data use agreements in place between the different entities involved in their interventions was more arduous than expected, and impacted the timeframe for when their health information exchange (HIE) would be able to share data. A considerable amount of support -- financial, technical and expertise -- has been deployed via the Beacon Community Program. The evaluation component of this significant federal investment is therefore crucially important to policymakers and other stakeholders. A rigorous examination of the impact of the Beacon Community program could influence the design and funding of future community-level intervention designs. Additionally, the lessons learned from the activities of the participating communities have the potential to impact the future of health IT. The Beacon Community teams, with the support of ONC and technical assistance from AcademyHealth, are diligently working on evaluation activities that will allow their experiences to serve as important examples to communities nationwide. For more information on the specific efforts underway in the Beacon Communities, please see the full report.   This post was written by Hilary Kennedy, Senior Associate, AcademyHealth

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