The move will enable the Muskegon-based health system to become involved in a greater number of clinical trials with pharmaceutical manufacturers, research universities and other health care providers. The new department provides Mercy General a mechanism to better coordinate projects and comply with federal regulations that require a dedicated structure and coordinator for research activities, as well as form new partnerships with researchers.
The goal is to put Mercy General further to the front of the line for new medications, medical devices, clinical procedures and best practices that evolve from medical research, said Brenda Hopma, the health system’s director of heart and vascular services.
“We think it’s important, being on the cutting edge and looking for other opportunities and looking for something new for the patient,” Hopma said. “We want to be out there and be one of the first getting some of these things, rather than having to wait as other places get them.”
Mercy General has participated in research for 10 years or more, conducting five or six clinical trials that are “of any significance” alone in the heart and vascular area — which is the initial focus for the new research department, Hopma said.
Focusing on research projects that can translate into improved patient care and quality, Mercy General will concentrate on projects that benefit its particular patient population and “make sense for our mission,” Hopma said.
“There are some things out there that we see a need for and we’d like to be a part of developing those,” Hopma said. “We’re looking more toward the outcome for the patient. We just want to be involved in what’s out there that can be a benefit for our patients and our physicians.”
Mercy General, one of just two hospitals in West Michigan that does heart surgery, opted to center its initial focus on heart and vascular research because of past research projects in that area and the high incidence of cardiovascular disease in the Muskegon area.
One ongoing research project that started in January through the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and Duke University, involving 60,000 patients nationwide, analyzes treatment patterns for high-risk acute cardiac patients with certain chest pain disorders known as unstable angina. Mercy General is one of 400 hospitals nationwide participating in the project, which seeks to encourage doctors to follow published practice guidelines for those patients.
Another ongoing research project uses a national database on how heart attack patients are treated. The database compares and reports outcomes with a goal of sharing best practices between hospitals.
“It helps us to measure quality, it helps us to determine what we’re doing right and what we can improve upon,” said Dr. Mark Meengs, a cardiologist with West Shore Cardiology in Muskegon.
Beyond heart and vascular, Mercy General in the years ahead hopes to extend research projects into other areas such as oncology, neurology and renal disease, Hopma said. Physicians in those areas have already shown an interest in participating in research projects, she said.
“The interest is definitely put there,” Hopma said. “Physicians want to offer options to patients.”