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Penn State Health taking innovative approaches to meet health care needs

Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is well-positioned for the challenges and opportunities facing the nation's health care system, according to Dr. A. Craig Hillemeier, dean of Penn State College of Medicine, chief executive officer of Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Health System, and Penn State's senior vice president for health affairs. Hillemeier shared highlights of the organization's 2014-2015 fiscal year (to date) performance with members of the Penn State Board of Trustees at their public meeting in Hershey today, sharing examples of how Penn State Hershey is meeting challenges through innovations that advance the science and practice of medicine.

With more patients expected to seek care in the coming years as a result of health care reform, more physicians and other health care professionals will be needed. The College of Medicine is responding to meet that need, having graduated its 44th class in 2014, awarding 133 medical degrees and 67 graduate degrees. Nearly one in five medical school applicants applies to Penn State, which saw 9,449 people seek one of the 150 openings in its newest medical student class. The College had 2,166 applicants for the 30 openings in its newest physician assistant class. Hillemeier noted that today is also Match Day at medical schools across the country, meaning 120 of this year's graduating medical students at Penn State found out where they will be completing their residencies.

Hillemeier also highlighted some new initiatives designed to attract more bright, promising medical students to address the challenges facing health care, including a shortage of family physicians. They include:

  • A new Systems Navigation Curriculum funded by a $1 million grant from the American Medical Association. Beginning in October, 85 medical students were embedded at 16 clinical practice sites across central Pennsylvania where they served as patient navigators.
  • A new family medicine residency in partnership with Mount Nittany Medical Center to help attract more family physicians to that underserved region.
  • An accelerated medical education program that will allow students who want to practice family medicine to finish medical school in three years instead of four.

Hillemeier noted how the rapid transformation in the health care industry is increasing the importance of providing quality care close to home – and at a reduced cost – for people across central Pennsylvania. Hillemeier shared developments that will help Penn State Hershey meet these goals.

  • A new dermatology telemedicine program is being launched in conjunction with Physicians Alliance Limited to provide increased access to dermatologists for people in Lancaster County. The model is based on the successful LionNet program, Penn State Hershey's telemedicine program for stroke. Launched in 2012, the program partners with 14 community hospitals to bring the resources of Penn State Hershey's comprehensive stroke center to communities across the region.
  • Penn State Hershey is now performing bone marrow transplants on an outpatient basis. This approach allows these patients, who have compromised immune systems as a result of the procedure, to recover out of the hospital. It also means reduced costs for care and medication.

At the center of these and other efforts is a goal of enhancing the quality, safety and value provided for patients, Hillemeier said. Such efforts at Penn State Hershey have been recognized recently in several ways.

  • For 2014, 173 Penn State Hershey physicians were selected for inclusion on the Best Doctors In America List, which contains professional profiles of physicians chosen through an exhaustive peer-review survey. Only 5 percent of the doctors in America earn a spot on the list.
  • Penn State Hershey was recognized as a Top Performer on Key Quality Measures by The Joint Commission, an independent agency that accredits hospitals. The Medical Center was recognized as part of the commission's 2014 annual report “America's Hospitals: Improving Quality and Safety,” for achieving excellence in performance on its accountability measures during 2013. The Top Performer program recognizes hospitals for improving performance on evidence-based interventions that increase the chances of healthy outcomes for patients in areas including heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care.
  • Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital was ranked in six specialties – its most ever – in U.S. News & World Report's 2014-15 Best Children's Hospitals rankings. The Children's Hospital ranked in cancer, cardiology and heart surgery, nephrology, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopedics and urology.

Penn State Hershey is also using innovation to address changes to state laws regarding training and reporting of suspected child abuse. The Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children created an online training module – iLook Out for Child Abuse – to help early child care professionals meet the new requirements. The regulations under Act 31 of 2014 took effect on Dec. 31. iLook Out for Child Abuse's interactive video format provides the legally required three hours of training, and is designed to help early child care providers better understand and fulfill their new legal responsibilities.

Across all of its missions, Penn State Hershey is keenly aware of the role that data will play in enhancing its patient care, research and educational missions. Construction is underway on a 46,000-square-foot, $54-million data center on the Medical Center and College of Medicine campus. Building the University Technology Center is the next step to enabling Penn State Hershey to utilize “big data” to enhance patient care through disease modeling and predictors for disease by more efficiently processing and analyzing clinical information. The new center will provide centralized space and enhanced security for patient, research and educational data for the Medical Center and College of Medicine as well as powerful computers and main frames for analyzing the information.

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