WHEELING – Douglass Harrison is a West Virginian, and the Milton native knows what the comforts of locality mean to his neighbors now on both sides of the Ohio River.
As the president and CEO of WVU Medicine Wheeling and Reynolds Memorial hospitals, it has been his mission – especially since Wheeling Hospital became fully integrated into WVU Medicine last April 1 – to provide high-quality care to the people of the valley so that they don’t feel forced to travel elsewhere to seek it. He strengthens that project in both the services WVU Medicine hospitals provide in the Ohio Valley and with the physicians he recruits to serve the region’s patients.
The key component to the strategy, Harrison said, is continuing to bring all WVU Medicine hospitals under one umbrella, especially in terms of the exchange of data and information.
“The goal now, both short-term and long-term, is regional integration,” he said. “How do we bring these clinical teams together to manage patients more effectively and efficiently?”
One of the biggest ways the hospitals will achieve that is to all be integrated into WVU Medicine’s Epic system, which will help all hospitals in the health system access, organize, store and share electronic medical records. Wheeling Hospital is scheduled to be integrated into the system by April 1.
When that happens, if a patient is seen at another WVU Medicine facility, all the data collected at that visit will be readily available to Wheeling Hospital healthcare workers at the touch of a button. Likewise, all medical data collected at Wheeling will be available to all other WVU Medicine facilities.
“It’s looking at it from a regional perspective where, when you come into a WVU Medicine regional facility, that’s what you expect – high quality care and integrated care, where we can take care of you and your family members all at one location,” he said. “(On the Epic system), we will truly be integrated at that point, to where you go into any WVU Medicine facility, you’ll be able to see your labs, X-rays, physician visits, whatever.”
Patients also will be able to call up their information on the MyChart mobile app. Harrison calls those updates huge improvements for both physicians and patients.
“It’ll be a gamechanger for us and our physicians from a clinical perspective,” he said. “From a patient perspective, it really puts the power in your hands. The MyChart application is phenomenal. You can pay your bill online, schedule appointments online, chat with your physician online. But it also is the means by which we get data to improve quality and improve outcomes.”
Quality also will improve with the medical services now provided locally, Harrison added. The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute now has a home at Wheeling Hospital, and the hospital also has teamed up with the WVU Cancer Institute to enhance care for that disease.
The hospital now will have three neurosurgeons to divide the workload, is recruiting two more sports medicine physicians and WVU Children’s doctors make periodic visits to the Northern Panhandle to see patients.
The specialty care provided also will make a big difference, Harrison added. The Heart and Vascular Institute features a chronic heart failure physician. The hospital also has hired a urologist who specializes in kidney stones. And many of those physicians have local ties and are returning to the area to care for people they’ve known for years.
In that regard, Harrison offered the example of Dr. Robert Herron, a thoracic surgeon and Wheeling native who has returned to the Friendly City to lead the efforts on lung cancer screening and start the robotic thoracic surgery program.
“People like local,” Harrison said. “They like to say this is one of our hometown physicians that have come back and made a commitment.”
All of those moves, Harrison said, should help keep patients mostly within West Virginia’s borders rather than watching them head to Cleveland or Pittsburgh for more specialized care.
“There was way too much outmigration of care when we got here,” he said. “And when you look at how we’ve been able to turn that around and keep it in Wheeling, but also within the system. When I got here, less than 50% of transfers out of here went down to Morgantown. These days, when someone transfers out of our hospital, almost 85% go to Morgantown.”
The growth isn’t going to stop anytime soon. Harrison said the hospital will continue to seek out top specialists to make their home at Wheeling Hospital. His plan is that building up Wheeling Hospital will create a snowball effect, and that the WVU Medicine health care facilities around Wheeling will see the benefits.
“As Wheeling Hospital gets stronger,” he said, “so too will the other hospitals.”