Joseph Mannion, M.D., sees patients in his solo internal medicine practice in Avon-by-the-Sea, N.J., on two weekday afternoons and Saturdays.

During the rest of his workweek, Mannion serves as chief information officer at Hackensack Meridian Health, a 13-hospital system based in Edison, N.J.

It's an unusual combination that has helped Mannion design, test and implement health information technology systems that work well for practicing physicians and their patients.

Hackensack Meridian Health has achieved a high level of clinical integration with technology, through a robust electronic health record, clinical decision support tools, telemedicine, online quality reporting and physician ratings.

“My recipe for success is to be in the trenches,” Mannion says. “I feel it is very important that I practice medicine and use the systems. Walking the walk is a priceless asset to have.”

Indeed, four physicians at the health system are in the information technology department.

In July 2016, Hackensack University Health Network and Meridian Health merged to become Hackensack Meridian Health. The combined entity has 28,000 employees and 6,000 physicians and is the second-largest health system in New Jersey.

The main IT priority that came out of the merger, Mannion says, was to put all the hospitals and clinics on one electronic health record system. (The two entities had used different vendors before the merger.) That integration is expected to be completed in 2018. The merger has also required removing redundancies in IT, putting all systems on a single enterprise resource planning software platform (for back-office functions and other systems), and combining staff and project efforts.

With those efforts well underway, Mannion and his team are now working on offering all volunteer physician practices affiliated with Hackensack Meridian Health the opportunity to move to the same EHR system, Epic.

“We really hadn't had the resources planned to do that,” Mannion says. But his team put together a plan, and Mannion himself, along with another independent provider, offered to test the transition.

“We could offer up our practices to minimize the inconvenience to the rest of our medical staff,” he says.

The other practitioner is a specialist in pulmonology and required different functionality for the EHR than Mannion did in his primary care solo practice.

“If I want to see a new patient on a Saturday afternoon, I can open my office and say come on over, and I put the patient in [the EHR] myself,” he says. “I need to be able to do registration soup to nuts. But a specialist has a front office staff person to do that so she doesn't need to do registration. Different practices have different needs.”

Volunteer physician practices range from solo practitioners like Mannion to large physician groups, he says.

Another project that is coming out of the merger is expanding the use and functionality of a patient-centered app developed at Hackensack several years ago.

The Hackensack Meridian Health app is available for Apple and Android devices, and like many health system apps it allows patients to email their physician, schedule an appointment and view test results. It also allows patients to self-register via selfie before arriving at a facility and has a feature for sharing your own EHR with a physician or other trusted party. It is integrated with the ride-hailing app Uber for transportation to and from the hospital. And it has wayfinding functionality so it knows when the patient arrives on-site and can help guide patients and visitors around the hospital.

Mannion's team is in the process of installing beacons throughout all hospitals that allow the wayfinding feature to function via wireless network.

“I jokingly call it the best wedding present we got from Hackensack,” says Mannion, who worked for Meridian Health before the merger. 

Mannion expects even more integration and better tools for physicians and patients coming down the pike. The health system is boosting its population health management systems and refining accountable care organization data systems. Virtual visits are also slated to expand to other areas of the hospitals beyond the emergency department.

Overall, the goal is for providers and patients to have seamless interactions that improve patient health and make physicians' work manageable.

“I opened my practice in 1991, and in the old days I would stop back at the hospital before I went home for the night,” Mannion explains. “Now I can check in on my patients remotely throughout the day. Technology gives us much better accessibility to patients.”

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