St. Luke’s University Health Network: Embracing the Future of Patient Care

by HCE Exchange on January 27, 2014

Christopher-Alia-thumbAcross the health-care spectrum, physicians are increasingly taking on administrative roles, in addition to running a medical practice, as they evaluate whether to remain in an independent private practice or join up with a larger medical system.

Christopher S. Alia, M.D., FCCP, is one example of this new-century physician, as he serves many roles for St. Luke’s University Health Network.

Providing patient care and administrative leadership

St. Luke’s is a fairly large network serving seven counties in eastern Pennsylvania and into Warren County, N.J. The network has six hospitals, more than 80 owned physician-practice sites, more than 125 employed primary-care and specialist physician sites, outpatient services, and home-health and hospice services.

Dr. Alia serves as vice president of medical affairs and medical director of ICU at the network’s Allentown campus. The Allentown campus is a 149-bed community hospital.

He is also a partner at St. Luke’s Pulmonary & Critical Care Associates. He has two outpatient offices in the area and provides inpatient pulmonary and critical care at the St. Luke’s Allentown, Bethlehem, and Anderson campuses.

He has been with the organization for seven years, joining right out of fellowship. At the time, Alia said the network was expanding and providing impressive professional opportunities.

“It is important to me to have input into the health-care policies of our network,” he said. “Having physicians in administrative roles provides a bridge between competing financial goals and patient-care goals. Practicing clinicians respond better to other clinicians who are subject to the same rules and regulations and would be more likely to comply with some changes, knowing an administrative colleague also has to comply.”

As vice president of medical affairs, Alia has the opportunity to work with vice presidents at other locations in the St Luke’s network and the chiefs of clinical sections in moving care forward for the network as a whole.

“We work together to make sure processes are optimal for physicians and patients,” he said. “We are aiding in health-care decision-making that will advance the organization in a way that is best for patients.”

Making a difference in patient care

As medical director of the intensive-care unit at Allentown, Alia began making changes to care delivery. Previously, the ICU, which had been expanded in 2008, operated as an open concept where internists and surgeons have primary service and pulmonary or other specialists were consultative.

He enclosed the unit so that all patients were managed on the critical-care service. The critical-care physician would then be primarily responsible for directing the ICU care of the patient and involving the necessary consulting physicians.

Alia also helped institute a nurse practitioner-led rapid-response team that not only works directly with critical-care physicians caring for ICU patients, but also responds to medical emergencies outside the ICU, ideally treating the patient before he or she needs to be transferred to an ICU level of care.

“Patients in the ICU or on the floor needing urgent-care interventions are getting them through these rapid-response teams,” he said. “We have reduced code rates for patients having acute compromise or cardiac arrests, reduced ICU transfer rates, and improved quality measures.”

As St. Luke’s expands, Alia looks forward to future changes and challenges. The hospital is preparing for a pay-for-performance fee structure and participating in a Medicare demonstration project for value-based purchasing. All primary-care and specialty sites are attesting for Meaningful Use for electronic medical records utilization, and the hospital network is working toward leveraging information technology to provide better patient care, communicate effectively with patients, and receive the proper reimbursement for the services provided.

Investing in the future of care

St. Luke’s Allentown Campus has a stroke center, chest-pain center, a center of excellence for bariatrics and minimally invasive gynecology surgery, as well as service-line focuses for neurology and neurosurgery.

The hospital is outfitting a new operating room and has added a parking deck to improve patient access. The Allentown Campus is also a site for advancing medical education, with rotating nurse-practitioner students from Drexel University and Jefferson University. The campus supports an osteopathic internship and has several residency programs.

Another exciting addition is the St. Luke’s West End Medical Center, which recently opened a new adult urgent-care center and sports and human-performance center for employees and the community and includes a separate pediatric urgent-care site through a partnership with St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.

OB/GYN, pain management, lab, and X-ray services are on-site with plenty of room for future growth that is currently in the planning stages, Alia added.

St. Luke’s University Hospital – Bethlehem rolled out a hybrid operating room with state-of-the-art imaging, allowing patients to remain in the OR for complex vascular procedures, last November.

The hybrid OR and the imaging technology in the network is part of a GE International Show Site. Additionally, the hospital partnered with Temple University to create a medical-school campus with the first class of nearly 30 students graduating in 2015. In 10 years, St. Luke’s expects to graduate upwards of 300 physicians.

In the coming years, the Allentown hospital plans to expand perinatal services and the neonatal intensive-care services, as well as increase surgical and critical-care volumes.

Alia said his goal is to work more closely with the network’s physician group to provide a seamless transition of care for patients from hospital to community and into outpatient care.

The campus also wants to expand community-health initiatives by providing increased services through its mobile-medical and dental-health vans.

“Health care is constantly changing,” Alia said. “Coming out of medical school, I never thought I’d be doing what I do today. Our organization has shown that it is versatile and responsive to the needs of the community. We do an excellent job of working as a group to solve the challenges we face in health care today, and we are confident we will stay strong into the future.”

-by Patricia Chaney

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