Medical Help is Just a Phone Call Away

August 2, 2021

By Mercy's Sonya Kullmann

Whether it’s COVID-19-like symptoms or something else, medical issues don’t wait for regular business hours. Patients often stress about what to do: wait until morning or seek emergency care.

That’s what happened to Keith Cutright, whose urinary tract infection wasn’t getting any better. A Mercy patient for more than 20 years, he reached out for answers, and was one of the first connected to the new Mercy on Call program.

Mercy patients may be familiar with a similar version of the service known as “Nurse on Call.” Registered nurses guide patients through treatment at home or advise them to go to the nearest ER.

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Mercy has taken the concept to the next level, adding physicians and advanced practice providers to a program for adult patients called Mercy on Call. With the ability to make medication adjustments, a doctor and nurse practitioner quickly got Cutright on the road to wellness.

“My wife called to see if the culture was back, since I wasn’t doing any better on my current antibiotic treatment,” he said. “It wasn’t, so we figured we’d just have to wait. Then, a few hours later, Allison, the NP, called back. She said the culture results were in and the bacteria was resistant to my medication. She had talked to one of the doctors and they sent in a new prescription. I was a new person by Monday morning!”

The need for more advanced remote care grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people avoided everything from grocery stores to doctor’s offices.

“Patients were looking for more virtual care,” said Dr. Justin Huynh, vice president of population health at Mercy. “We quickly delivered with even more video visit options, but sometimes a phone call is faster and easier for patients – especially late at night or on weekends. Nurse on Call has always been busy for that reason, so adding physicians and advanced care providers to expand capabilities of the team made complete sense.”

Mercy on Call providers are an extension of the local care team. They can access a patient’s electronic health record to see past medical history, allergies and medications so they can give the best possible advice. The exchange of information works both ways, as the patient’s primary care provider knows what care was provided through the service.

Mercy on Call is free and gets Mercy adult primary care patients the right care at the right place, saving them time and money in medical bills. While the team may recommend the ER in some instances, in others, patients may be like Cutright and get the care they need without leaving the couch. “I could have very easily wound up in the hospital,” he said. “Instead, I was able to get better at home. To take care of my original phone call was one thing, but to call back later was above and beyond!”

Calls made to Mercy primary care offices after hours and on weekends, for adult patients, are automatically sent to Mercy on Call. Nurse on Call still handles after-hours requests for pediatric patients, backed by on-call physicians. Work is underway to add full-time physicians and advanced practice providers to that service as well.

Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems for four consecutive years by IBM Watson Health, serves millions annually. Mercy is one of the nation’s most highly integrated, multi-state health care systems, including more than 40 acute care, managed and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, convenient urgent care locations, imaging centers and pharmacies. Mercy has 900 physician practices and outpatient facilities, more than 4,000 Mercy Clinic physicians and advanced practitioners and 40,000-plus co-workers serving patients and families across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. In addition, Mercy's IT division, Mercy Technology Services, and Mercy Virtual commercially serve providers and patients from coast to coast.

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