EMR coaching program connects pre-med students with docs

By Molly Merrill
12:13 PM

A unique summer program, which paired physicians at Mount Nittany Medical Center with pre-med students at Penn State, has proved to be successful in coaching doctors on EMR use and giving students a real-life experience in a hospital setting.

Mount Nittany’s CMIO Stephen Tingley, MD, formerly a physician at Penn State’s University Health Services, developed the program, which ran from May 31 to Aug. 19. He said the program was born of the need for a cost-effective, efficient way to train 250 doctors on problem list usage and electronic discharge instructions (including discharge medication reconciliation and prescription writing) for their new Meditech EMR.

Tingley hired 30 students (29 are Penn State students and one is from Duquesne University) and paid them $10/ hour to be on-hand for physicians from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

Tingley had nothing but praise for the students.

“The world doesn’t know about them, but they should,” he said. He said they are the type of individuals he would put his reputation on.

“Pre-meds are more or less self-selected as high achievers and responsible,” he added. “They see opportunities like this as part of their long- term career development. I knew they would do what was needed to succeed.”

“The availability of coaches for immediate need,” was one of the greatest benefits of the program,” noted Thomas Covaleski MD, director of the Penn State Hospitalist Program at Mount Nittany Medical Center. “Physicians’ days are unpredictable and having readily available help at the time of need was priceless. The coaches were a non-threatening way to help physicians who typically do not like to be unprepared or unknowledgeable,” he said.

But the key to the program’s success was that by hiring pre-med students to do the EMR coaching, it freed up the application specialists from having to do this, Tingley said. Instead they could concentrate on personalizing templates for doctors, gaining credibility and allowing doctors to champion for them.

Jeff Eaton, a cardiologist at Mount Nittany, said the students were “well-educated on the program” and did a “great job instructing us on how to use it,” he said. “The system is not easy to figure out, it's so different, like a maze.” As the program was coming to a close he said he “dreaded the day “ when they were no longer there.

“It was uplifting to be exposed to the enthusiasm of students interested in healthcare during this time when there are many strains and negative perceptions,” Covaleski added.

As for plans for a similar program next summer, Tingley says, “I’m pretty sure we’ll be looking at something similar next year, but it will be pretty dependent on whether or not we’re launching a substantial change at a time which coincides with the college calendar.”

Covaleski hopes to have the coaches on hand to help with the system-wide implementation of physician electronic order entry.