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UC San Diego aims to use more health IT to improve quality and health, as well as reduce costs.
UC San Diego aims to use more health IT to improve quality and health, as well as reduce costs.

Healthcare Market Profile: San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos

Broadening its reach: System to integrate city's healthcare facilities

By Jessica Zigmond
Posted: July 25, 2011 - 12:01 am ET

Similar to the other 16 selected communities in the Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement program, the University of California San Diego Health System already had considerable experience operating a health information exchange.

But receiving the three-year, $15.3 million federal grant on behalf of area healthcare providers will allow the 10-campus academic medical system to broaden its health information technology efforts to integrate every healthcare facility in the San Diego community, says Ed Babakanian, chief information officer for UCSD Health Sciences and chairman of the Beacon Community Advisory Board.

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The funding is part of the $200 million included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for communities to use health information technology to improve health and lower costs.

The San Diego Beacon Community Collaborative applies to 10 participating healthcare systems or related entities in San Diego county—Rady Children's Hospital, Sharp HealthCare, Kaiser Permanente, Scripps Health, Navy Hospital, County of San Diego Health & Human Services Agency, VA San Diego Healthcare Systems, Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial counties, Council of Community Clinics and UC San Diego Health System—and is expected to integrate all of the region's facilities. There is no central repository for the exchange, but rather all of the systems will be linked electronically.

“The overall goal is to use HIT to improve healthcare quality, to improve population health and reduce costs,” says Dr. Ted Chan, professor of clinical medicine in the UCSD's emergency medicine department and principal investigator for the San Diego Beacon Community Collaborative. “A big part of ours is to build a health information exchange and to test other pilots.”

According to Chan, the San Diego collaborative will focus on four specific goals: to reduce 30-day admissions, improve the care of heart-attack patients in the pre-hospital setting (by sending information electronically from ambulances, for example), improve immunization reporting and immunization rates among children, and reduce unnecessary CT scans within 60 days.

“We saw in our community many patients go to different hospitals,” Chan says, adding that the region has a large population covered by the federal government through the Veterans Affairs Department and the Navy. “It's hard to care for people when they have information they can't get access to.”

Chan and Babakanian acknowledge that if you have seen one Beacon collaborative, you've seen one Beacon collaborative. For example, the Central Indiana Beacon Community is expected to expand its health information exchange to new community providers to improve cholesterol and blood sugar control for diabetic patients and also reduce preventable readmissions through telemonitoring of high-risk patients. And the Rhode Island Beacon Community in Providence is focused on improving a variety of HIT initiatives to help the state transition to a patient-centered medical home model, according to HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

“They are different because they are different communities with different needs,” Babakanian says. “But I would hope all are using Beacon to improve quality of care. We focus on cardiovascular and immunization and we collaborate with the other Beacon communities,” he says, adding that the ONC is heavily involved in the process because the goal is not to have one model copied multiple times. “In the end,” Babakanian says, “we can benefit from all 17.”

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