Penn State Hershey doctor addresses congressional health care caucus

September 14, 2009

A congressional health care caucus heard how Penn State University and the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center are transforming the delivery of health care through health information technology, highlighting delivery of emergency care through innovative use of health care information systems and patient flow engineering.

Chris DeFlitch, the Medical Center’s chief medical information officer and vice chair for emergency medicine, presented Sept. 15 as part of a congressional panel coordinated by the American Society for Quality (ASQ). The forum took place before the 21st Century Health Care Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressmen Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) co-chair the caucus.

DeFlitch spoke on behalf of Penn State’s Center for Integrated Healthcare Delivery Systems, a collaboration of the Medical Center and the Colleges of Medicine, Engineering, Information Sciences and Technology, and Health and Human Development.

“Across the country, the health care system is facing unprecedented challenges. The growing ranks of the uninsured, an aging population and issues of access to primary care and some specialists have brought tremendous pressure on the health care enterprise, particularly our health care safety net, emergency medicine. Hospitals across the country have responded by building bigger emergency departments but expansions are costly and don’t always lead to improved efficiency or quality of care,” DeFlitch said. “We’re going to share with the caucus members an innovative approach to the care delivery system in the emergency department using health care IT; one which we believe offers a lot of promise for the health care delivery system as a whole.”

Through the example of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center’s emergency department, DeFlitch showed congressional caucus members how health IT can effectively support innovative processes to transform health care delivery. He elaborated on a decision to all but eliminate the traditional emergency waiting room and introduce a concept called Physician Directed Queuing (PDQ) to make the process of care more efficient for both patients and providers.

DeFlitch explained how emergency department visits at Penn State Hershey Medical Center had risen steadily over the past decade to the point where an emergency department designed for 35,000 annual visits was attempting to accommodate more than 50,000 patients per year. Faced with an option of doing a traditional and costly expansion of the emergency department, the Medical Center chose a different approach.

“By leveraging core expertise across Penn State, including clinical informatics, emergency medicine, industrial engineering, information sciences and technology, as well as some corporate partners, we developed, proposed and built a smarter, more efficient emergency care delivery system rather than simply building a bigger ER,” DeFlitch said.

The new emergency department expanded by only 7,000 square feet, at a cost of approximately $6 million, rather than an originally proposed 20,000-square-foot expansion that would have cost more than $20 million.

Since the completion of phase one of the emergency department renovations in March, wait times have decreased dramatically and the number of patients choosing to leave without treatment is down to less than 1 percent. Patient satisfaction scores, as measured by independent surveys, have increased by 5 percent. Meanwhile, patient visits increased more than 11 percent.

The bipartisan 21st Century Health Care Caucus is composed of 47 members of the House of Representatives who come together to discuss health care policy issues. Information technology is a primary interest of the caucus.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 17, 2009