Penn State Hershey Medical Group: Expanding care where people need it most—close to home
Americans made more than one billion visits to doctors’ offices, emergency departments, and hospital outpatient offices in 2006—up 26 percent in a decade, according to the CDC. While these numbers continue to grow, Penn State Hershey Medical Group is stepping up its efforts to bring about better comprehensive care, quicker access and less waiting to its ambulatory care sites across central Pennsylvania.
The Medical Group is a multispecialty team of more than 700 Penn State Hershey physicians, who treat patients at 54 outpatient centers and clinic sites throughout the region. Whether piloting a medical home, partnering with area hospitals or launching community outreach programs, the Medical Group is paving a new path for growth and innovation that extends way beyond the walls of Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
“We are expanding our Medical Group to improve access to outpatient care,” says A. Craig Hillemeier, M.D., COO and director of the group. As vice dean for clinical affairs at Penn State College of Medicine, Hillemeier is committed to advancing the clinical education, patient care, service, and research missions. Hillemeier, who is also a professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics and medical director of Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, joined the faculty here nine years ago. Since then he has been at the forefront of developing new approaches to health care that are efficient, effective, and patient-focused.
Q: In the last six months, Penn State Hershey Medical Group has begun expanding its presence in several central Pennsylvania communities. Why?
A: Because seeing a specialist or having certain medical procedures has usually involved travel throughout the region for most families. Yet, people don’t travel well when they are sick, and the trip often takes them away from family and friends, especially when they need a prolonged series of treatment visits. So, we at the Medical Center are working to make sure patients and their families have access to the highest caliber of care as close to home as possible.
Q: What’s your strategy for making this happen?
A: When Penn State Hershey Medical Group was formed in 2008, we looked at the changing reality around us—everything from complex cancer treatments to surgical care was becoming outpatient services. At that time, we evaluated our various ambulatory care facilities across the region to determine how best to meet our mission of improving the health and well-being of the residents of our community. Toward that goal, we’ve been partnering with area hospitals and health networks, developing new clinic sites and practices, and implementing community health education programs. And we will continue to seek innovative ways to extend our reach into local communities across the region.
Q: How did the new Penn State Hershey Medical Group–Camp Hill practice come about? What will it mean for the residents of that area?
A: We wanted to better address the needs of the greater West Shore community. Our goal in opening the new Camp Hill site was to provide those residents with highly accessible and comprehensive health care services. To do this, we combined two existing medical group practices that included primary and specialty care. The new facility celebrated its grand opening on August 10, and we’re all very excited the practice is up and running.
At the new location, we have eight family medicine physicians that provide primary care to both children and adults. We also have physicians with expertise in some ten specialties, including cardiology, obstetrics and gynecology, and orthopaedics and physical therapy, surgery and more. We’ve added radiology services that can meet most imaging needs. For example, we use the latest technology including the 3T wide bore magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system and digital mammography. As it stands, patients receive diagnostic care, specialty care, and treatment under one roof. This, in turn, promotes a more effective coordination of care. Community health education events will be held at the new building, which offers more-accessible parking and enough space to accommodate changes.
Q: How does the clinical partnership between the Medical Group and St. Joseph Medical Center in Reading meet the needs of the hospital and community in a better way?
A: The best way to improve clinical care in any community is through active partnerships with the physicians and health care providers who are most familiar with their patients and that community. Last year we established a partnership with St. Joseph Medical Center for the care of stroke patients. As such, St. Joseph is actively taking part in our brain attack program through our Department of Neurology. More recently, Penn State Hershey opened the Penn State Hershey Medical Group at St. Joseph Medical Center. Our goal in opening the new site with St. Joseph was to provide children and families with the specialized care they need as close to home as possible. Today, Berks County families have increased access to pediatric specialty care and enhanced cancer services. Two dozen Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital physicians, comprising of fifteen pediatric specialties and sub-specialties, see patients at that clinic site. We recruited a radiation oncologist who has also been seeing patients We are planning on adding more specialties and are currently working with the leadership at St. Joseph to decide which ones would be most appropriate. We look forward to building on this partnership and are working to identify other ways in which we can work collaboratively with community physicians to meet the needs of families in the Berks area.
Q: What has been the reaction to the clinic opening inside St. Joseph?
A: It’s been embraced from the top down. Through our Medical Group, children and their families will receive the same superior level of care they’d expect from Penn State Hershey Medical Center—without having to make the trip to Hershey. Moreover, a comradeship is developing among our colleagues in the area. They’re excited that they have the opportunity to refer patients to Penn State Hershey faculty physicians. The enthusiastic response from the leadership and medical staff proves that our growing partnership does work.
Q: The Medical Group has opened the Windmere Medical Group in State College and has plans to open two additional practices. Why is the expansion into State College important?
A: The expansion into State College reflects the University’s commitment to meet the healthcare needs of Penn State retirees, employees, and their families. The new practice has nine family medicine physicians. In addition, we will create a medical home here for the Penn State population. With a growing and aging population, new ideas and systems of management are needed. And this new model of care—called a patient-centered medical home—is something very exciting to be able to offer residents of the area.
Q: What is the medical home approach, and how does it benefit patients?
A: We have developed a patient-centered medical home, where patients have an ongoing relationship with a primary care physician who coordinates all their health care needs. As the patient’s primary source, the family medicine physician ensures that the patient receives all the necessary services—everything from lab tests to preventive screenings to specialist care, when necessary. The new approach produces some of the best results. Having a medical home is associated with a higher quality of care and better access. It also cuts down on patient waiting time because health care providers work within a streamlined system, often using electronic medical records and online prescription systems, for example. In addition, providers have the capacity to refer patients to a broader range of caregivers and services that are closer to the patient’s home.
Q: What’s next?
A: We also have established a new objective aimed at increasing the number of physicians in the State College area to meet the health care needs of employees and their families who work for the University. The medical needs of the State College population have been estimated to be quite significant, while there is expected to be a physician shortage in many areas such as primary care and certain specialties like endocrinology.
Q: What do you envision for the future?
A: To think that central Pennsylvania could be converted into a region where all patients receive similar, high-quality treatment is a cause for excitement. And we’re taking steps to make that happen. One by one, these efforts will add up to an entirely new success story.
By Paula Rasich