Care is improving for patients across several small Arkansas communities, and there’s a dedicated doctor who is making it happen.
Dr. Syed Hamid planned to work in Booneville for a few years at the beginning of his career and then move on, probably to an urban area. But Dr. Hamid found 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 little town wedged between the Ozark and Ouachita mountains.
Recently, Mercy expanded Dr. Hamid’s practice to Paris and Waldron, two rural communities where it operates critical access hospitals, each about a half-hour’s drive from Mercy Hospital Booneville. The pilot project sought to test how an admitting physician who would do rounds as a hospitalist would affect care in the two communities. The results have been positive, both for patients and Mercy.
“Part of the problem was that we had different levels of service at all three hospitals,” explained Steve Gebhart, vice president of operations for Mercy Clinic Fort Smith.
Because there might not be an admitting physician available, 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.
Patients generally want to stay closer to home if they’re not in a life-threatening situation, Dr. 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, he said. Having a hospitalist doing rounds at all three rural hospitals makes it possible for Mercy to offer a higher level of care.
The pilot project increased inpatient stays at Booneville, Paris and Waldron and made all three hospitals better able to handle acute cases, Dr. Hamid said.
“We have more continuity and a standardized level of care more similar to Mercy Hospital Fort Smith,” he said. “I feel that most of the patients we admit are happier. We are able to give them more time and better care.”
The pilot also helped relieve some pressure from Mercy Hospital Fort Smith’s emergency department, Gebhart said. It’s expected the program will continue to increase the rural hospitals’ inpatient stays, making those hospitals more efficient and cost-effective, he said.
Dr. Hamid works each day at each of the critical access hospitals, starting wherever he has a patient with the highest level of need, said Teresa Williams, regional administrator for Mercy’s critical access hospitals. Mercy’s comprehensive electronic medical records make it possible for him to view charts remotely and decide where he’s needed first, she said.
“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.”
Dr. 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.
A big reason behind the success of the pilot is Dr. Hamid’s depth of experience and compassion for patients, said Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Hospital Fort Smith. Dr. 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 Dr. 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.
Dr. Hamid earned his M.D. 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 N.Y. He was the chief medical resident.
Dr. 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.