A Mercy rural health care pilot project with a doctor in Booneville is making a difference in Paris, Waldron and Fort Smith.

Mercy Health System recently expanded Dr. Syed Hamid’s practice to allow him to serve as an admitting physician at the Mercy hospitals in Paris and Waldron. In turn, the move has relieved some pressure from Mercy Hospital Fort Smith’s emergency department.

“Part of the problem was that we had different levels of service at all three hospitals,” Steve Gebhart, vice president of operations for Mercy Clinic Fort Smith, said in a news release.

Allowing Hamid to serve as an admitting physician at Mercy's critical access hospitals in Paris and Waldron is expected to continue to increase the rural hospitals’ inpatient stays, making those hospitals more efficient and cost-effective, Gebhart added. Waldron and Paris are two rural communities where Mercy operates critical access hospitals. Each one is about a half-hour’s drive from Mercy Hospital Booneville.

Patients taken to the Waldron or Paris hospitals often were transferred to Mercy Hospital Fort Smith. Knowing this, EMS personnel sometimes would skip the rural hospital and take the patient straight to Fort Smith, Gebhart said. This increased patient transfer time and, at times, would stress Mercy Hospital Fort Smith’s already busy emergency department.

The pilot project sought to test how an admitting physician who would do rounds as a hospitalist would affect care in the two communities.

Patients generally want to stay closer to home if they’re not in a life-threatening situation, Hamid said. Even if they do require hospitalization in Fort Smith, often they can be transferred to continue recovery at a critical access hospital nearer their home.

According to Hamid, the pilot project has increased inpatient stays at Booneville, Paris and Waldron and made all three hospitals better able to handle acute cases.

“We have more continuity and a standardized level of care more similar to Mercy Hospital Fort Smith,” the doctor added. “I feel that most of the patients we admit are happier. We are able to give them more time and better care.”

Gebhart said he expects the program will continue to increase the rural hospitals’ inpatient stays, making those hospitals “more efficient and cost-effective.”

Hamid’s travel time will begin to lessen with the addition of nurse practitioners and telemedicine to the program. The first step will be adding a telemedicine cart at Mercy Hospital Paris, which will connect patients there with doctors who can “see” them virtually through the use of a secure video connection, highly sensitive cameras and real-time vital signs. That will enable Mercy to offer more services at the rural hospitals, including specialist care.

The doctor’s story

Back in 2005, Hamid only planned to work in Booneville for a few years and then move on, probably to an urban area. But he says he found that he loved practicing medicine in a rural setting and has spent most of the last dozen years as an emergency room physician and hospitalist in the Logan County seat of Booneville.

Hamid earned his medical degree from Dow Medical College in Karachi, Pakistan. He completed one year of residency in pathology at Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University followed by residency in internal medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine New York. He was the chief medical resident.

Hamid comes from a family deep in practicing physicians, including his brother, sister and sister-in-law. His wife, Dr. Tabasum Imran, is the medical director at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science’s Area Health Education Center (AHEC) in Fort Smith. The couple lives in Fort Smith with their two children.

Rural access

Teresa Williams, regional administrator for Mercy’s critical access hospitals, said Hamid works each day at each of the critical access hospitals, starting wherever he has a patient with the highest level of need. Mercy’s comprehensive electronic medical records make it possible for him to view charts remotely and decide where he’s needed first, Williams added.

“He has made such a huge impact on all of the facilities and it’s making a big difference in those communities,” Williams said. “Access to care is so important in the rural areas. It’s better for patients and better for families if patients can stay close to home when they need medical care.”

Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Hospital Fort Smith, said a big reason behind the success of the pilot is Hamid’s “depth of experience and compassion for patients.”

Hamid’s tenure as an ER/hospitalist dates to 2005 when he first joined Booneville Community Hospital. After a merger, Mercy began its operations in Booneville in 2013.

“We appreciate Dr. Hamid’s willingness to take on responsibilities for patients at two additional hospitals,” Gehrig said. “His commitment has made it easier for Mercy patients to get medical care they need closer to home, and plans are in motion to expand upon this delivery model.”

Williams concurred, saying she no longer thinks of the program as a pilot because of its immediate success and Hamid’s dedication.

“Above all, he is patient-driven. At the end of the day, it’s all about patient care to him,” Williams said.