Paul Merrywell Helps His Health System Prevent Hospital Readmissions
Paul Merrywell is the Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), a health system based in Johnson City, Tennessee. The health system serves 29 counties in eastern Tennessee, southwest Virginia, western North Carolina, and eastern Kentucky. MSHA is the largest health system in the region, comprised of more than 9,000 primary care and specialty care staff, 13 hospitals, and over 80 health clinics. As CIO of MSHA, Mr. Merrywell is always looking for new ways to leverage Health IT to improve health care quality.
Using Health IT to Prevent Readmissions
Mr. Merrywell would be the first to tell you how challenging it is to manage patient care in an organization the size of MSHA. Without an electronic health record (EHR) system, complex tasks like preventing hospital readmissions and improving health care quality across all of MSHA’s hospitals and clinics – which span four different states – would be no easy task.
With an EHR system, however, Mr. Merrywell and his colleagues are able to prevent readmissions by using patient information to identify high risk patients. MSHA uses software to mine EHR data for risk factors for certain conditions. “We set up our EHR system to monitor for certain health cues, such as symptoms of blood infection, and then alert providers about relevant findings,” Mr. Merrywell explained. MSHA is also working to use EHR data to identify patients at high risk for readmissions to intervene earlier and determine appropriate next steps, which might be reminding patients about preventive care, prescribing medicine, or deploying case managers to help patients navigate treatment plans and avoid readmissions. With Health IT, MSHA’s providers are able to use EHR data to provide better care for its most vulnerable patients.
When it comes to transforming health care delivery models, MSHA is ahead of the curve. The health system operates an Accountable Care Organization as well as five National Committee for Quality Assurance Level III Certified Patient-Centered Medical Homes. To further improve health care quality in eastern Tennessee, southwest Virginia, western North Carolina, and eastern Kentucky, Mr. Merrywell and MSHA are also exploring other quality improvement initiatives.