ADA 2011: ADA, CDC Launch Beacon Communities Mobile Health IT Campaign

June 26, 2011
Jamie Reiter, PhD

New program utilizes mobile technology to improve diabetes prevention and management.

New program utilizes mobile technology to improve diabetes prevention and management.

In a call for partners, representatives from governmental and local organizations came together at the ADA 71st Annual Meeting in San Diego to present information supporting a new program aimed at utilizing mobile technology to improve diabetes prevention and management.

Known as the Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program, it is a three-year project of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) currently involving 17 communities from Maine to Hawaii.

Aaron McKethan, Director of the Beacon Program explained that the goal is to get communities to identify the most challenging healthcare problems and determine the best ways to improve coordination of care using IT. “When polled, most communities selected chronic conditions, specifically diabetes, as one of the biggest challenges and having the greatest potential for impact from new technology in terms of reducing prevalence, morbidity, and mortality.”

The Beacon Program, through the ONC, is partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the ADA to develop technology provided by Voxiva, a company delivering interactive mobile health services.

Highlighting the need for creative measures to prevent and treat diabetes, Dr. Ann Albright of the CDC projected that if we stay on the course we’re on, at least 20% (and as many as one in three) Americans will have diabetes in the year 2050.

At present, the cost of diabetes in the U.S. is $218 billion, with $140 billion going toward excess medical care. This money can be saved by optimizing the appropriate use of evidence-based medicine.

Dr. Herb Smitherman, one of the physicians participating in the Beacon Program in Detroit, said that many of the excess costs can be reduced by delivering evidence-based care to every diabetic, “decreasing ER admissions, decreasing hospitalizations, and decreasing complications.” In fact, he said, 85% of amputations are preventable.

So how do we use health information technology to improve outcomes? Smitherman described three basic interventions: physician-level, which ensures evidence-based guidelines are being practiced; community-based coordination, which utilizes care coordinators to help patients navigate the “maze of healthcare;” and engaging the public via mobile health to make sure everyone is getting information and is steered toward appropriate sources.

Communities are already demonstrating how much of an impact they can have on population health. Representing the Beacon Program in New Orleans, Dr. Anjum Khurshid explained that his community has come together in an unprecedented way to foster change with regard to chronic disease management and outcomes. The New Orleans program is focusing on three main areas: the clinical/primary care physician level to improve quality of care, transitions of care between different health care settings, and engaging patients who are not already in the health care system. “Many individuals in our community have non-traditional challenges, including high risk factors and social challenges. We need to be very creative and very specific,” he explained. “This is where mobile technology can be used.”

Robin Nwanko, an ADA volunteer outlined several community programs in Detroit that bring knowledge and resources to the public, including e-blasts to alert to legislative issues, fundraising, camps for children, and community outreach. “The association has the knowledge to reach people and help reduce mortality,” she said.

Paul Meyer, a representative from Voxiva, said “A simple way of thinking about what we’re talking about is this. There are 300 million cell phones in the US. If we can use them to vote on American Idol, we can use them to stop diabetes.”

The Beacon Program actually arose in part from a program called Text4Baby, which was a simple service that reached out to pregnant women and new moms. Those who signed up would submit their due date and zip code, and in return would receive three text messages per week with parenting tips, importance of vaccines, resources, and services. The program was funded nationally, but led by communities.

“Diabetes is a daily challenge. Patients can get burned out. They need on-going support. By participating in programs such as the Beacon Program, patients can receive the support they need,” said Albright.