Mercy Hospitals Healdton, Love County and Tishomingo are three of the seven rural Mercy hospitals participating in a national pilot program to improve care for patients transferred from emergency departments.

Local officials say while emergency care is important in all hospitals, it is particularly critical in rural hospitals where the distance from urban medical centers makes the effective triage, stabilization and transfer of patients essential. Such situations can be of life or death importance.

However, data indicating how well rural hospitals handle the important care transition role is not currently widely available. The pilot project will provide the means to collect information on emergency department transfer communication. The data can then be used to improve quality of care, safety and outcomes for patients transferred from rural emergency departments.

Jeremy Jones, Mercy Hospital Healdton, calls the participation in the pilot project a way to reach a goal.

"Our participation in this project will allow us to examine ways to improve the preparation of patients for transfer to a tertiary facility. The goal is to decrease the time it takes to get the patient to the appropriate level of care, as well as improve communication and patient safety during the care transition," he says.

Di Smalley, regional president of Mercy in Oklahoma, says the project is one of several ways the health system is working to improve care in rural settings.

"Mercy has long been committed to improving access to quality care in rural Oklahoma," Smalley says. "This is another program, in addition to our focus on physician recruitment, telemedicine and electronic medical records that will help rural Oklahomans get top notch care right at home."

Oklahoma is one of eight states selected to work on the project, which is funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The project is supported by Oklahoma's Medicare Quality Improvement Organization and the Oklahoma Office of Rural Health. The three local medical facilities are part of Mercy Health System's cooperation with Oklahoma's Medicare Quality Improvement Organization, and the Oklahoma Office of Rural Health.