Winona Health participates in major program to Advance Health Information Technology

Eleven counties form Southeast Minnesota Beacon Community

The Southeast Minnesota Beacon Community has been quietly organizing and launching itself since it received word last May that it was one of the 17 winners of a federal Beacon grant in excess of $12 million. The mission is to build a modern health information network as a means of improving efficiency and effective patient care. The model that is developed can then be studied and duplicated across the United States.

Principal collaborators on the award are Olmsted Medical Center, Winona Health, Mayo Clinic and Mayo Health System. They, in turn, are collaborating with each of the public health departments in 11 southeast Minnesota counties, a longer list of technical collaborators, and will soon include public school districts in the mix. Focusing on adult type II diabetes and juvenile asthma as conditions, the Beacon teams are developing informatics tools to track these illnesses in the population to help ensure optimal treatment. With this network in place, health care providers from doctors to clinics to public health and school nurses will be on the same page in ensuring no sick person is overlooked or goes without care. It also will mean that if children with asthma become ill, the information on how to care for them will be immediately available.

“Beacon is about providing a secure, validated and accurate system for electronic health care information, so people don’t get the wrong treatment or so treatment isn’t delayed,” says lead investigator Michael Harper, M.D., of Mayo Clinic. “It’s about keeping Minnesota the healthiest state in the country.”

The Southeast Minnesota Beacon Community is part of the national program funded by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Care Technology, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

A Team of Teams

Each collaborating partner is playing a special role. Winona Health is focusing on development of a closed circuit health-based video system that will allow patients to be seen for potential evaluation at remote locations, such as between the clinic and school.

“This is about getting beyond the four walls of the hospital and clinic and going deep into the community to improve the health of individuals struggling with diabetes and pediatric asthma,” says Mike Allen, CFO at Winona Health. “The lasting solutions for improving their health largely exist out in the community, and this project is a down payment on that.”

Olmsted Medical Center is continuing its studies on optimizing childhood asthma care in schools. Mayo is focusing on diabetes care and how best to ensure patients keep current with their insulin and checkups. Supporting the effort is a team of informatics specialists developing computational programs and interfaces.

“We are very pleased Beacon gives us the opportunity to develop reliable ways to share asthma-related information between physicians, parents and school nursing and other staff,” says Barbara Yawn, M.D., co-chair of the childhood asthma project group. “It is so important that schools and parents have up-to-date and accurate information immediately available to deal with changes in symptoms or asthma attacks.”

Security a Priority

“No one’s health information should be put at risk. That’s why we are developing safeguards and protections to improve security even further,” says Christopher Chute, M.D., Dr. P.H., Mayo informatics investigator. “All health care information involved in the network is used only with the informed and signed consent of the patient or their parents.”


Over the last several months Southeast Minnesota Beacon collaborators have:

  • Prioritized project plans
  • Engaged county health directors and county boards
  • Engaged state health leaders and departments
  • Completed community leader engagement meetings
  • Launched a Website and blog:
  • Completed technology architecture roadmaps
  • Engaged in Beacon collaborations across the country
  • Begun practice innovations for improved patient care

The three-year project will provide research updates on its Website, along with stories and other information. Media are welcome to cover Beacon and its impact on Minnesota health.

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