Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center: High-level Care and Research with a Regional Focus

By Tiffany Parnell
Thursday, April 20, 2017

A rigorous emphasis on primary and specialty care, research, and education sets Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center apart in regional healthcare delivery.

Hershey Medical Center, the only academic health center in Central Pennsylvania, blends specialty and primary care with leading-edge research tailored to the needs of patients in the area, sparing them the burden of traveling to cities such as Baltimore, Pittsburgh or Philadelphia to receive advanced care.

Extending Specialty and Primary Care Outreach

Hershey Medical Center offers comprehensive care for people of all ages through six dedicated specialty institutes and a children’s hospital. Besides the medical center, the affiliated Penn State Medical Group has 63 practices at 25 locations throughout Central Pennsylvania. The group’s newest practice opened in Mechanicsburg in April 2017.

Hershey Medical Center also offers enhanced access to specialty providers through a variety of telehealth services, including the LionNet TeleStroke Program, a dermatology telehealth initiative, a growing telepsychiatry program and an ALS telemedicine program that gives patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis the opportunity to complete office visits from home, eliminating the need to travel or transport ventilators and other medical equipment.

As part of the LionNet TeleStroke Program, Penn State Stroke Center neurologists remotely evaluate patients with stroke symptoms who present at 16 partnering community hospitals. This enables these specialists to rapidly offer lifesaving recommendations about treatment and to determine whether patients should be transferred to the Penn State Stroke Center — the region’s only Comprehensive Stroke Center — for a higher level of care. Thanks to the program, which started in 2012, more than 90 percent of stroke patients are able to remain in their community hospitals, according to Craig Hillemeier, MD, dean of Penn State College of Medicine, CEO of Penn State Health and senior vice president for health affairs for Penn State.

Adjusting to a New Era in Medicine

In the ever-changing healthcare landscape, more physician groups and healthcare organizations are merging. With these mergers comes a potential increase in healthcare costs, according to The Commonwealth Fund. To maintain access to high-quality care for patients, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center has created strategic regional partnerships.

One example is the establishment of Penn State Health Care Partners, a clinically integrated network that includes Hershey Medical Center, Penn State Health St. Joseph (formerly St. Joseph Regional Health Network) and community providers.

With the addition of St. Joseph Medical Center and St. Joseph Medical Group into the health system in 2015, Penn State Health has steadily been expanding access to primary and specialty care across Berks County, including pediatrics, orthopedics, heart and vascular, neurology and neurosurgery, obstetrics and gynecology, and cancer.

“It’s essential that we deliver care that is directed by people who live here and that works to the advantage of the community,” says Craig Hillemeier, MD, dean of Penn State College of Medicine, CEO of Penn State Health and senior vice president for health affairs for Penn State. “We need to ensure we have a health system and academic medical center that’s focused on Central Pennsylvania so we can provide specialty and primary care that meets the needs of the people who live here.”

The telepsychiatry program, provided in collaboration with PinnacleHealth System and the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute (PPI), a joint venture between Penn State Health and PinnacleHealth, helps meet Central Pennsylvania’s needs for emergency psychiatric care. According to a 2016 Five-County Regional Community Health Needs Assessment Implementation Strategy report, the number of psychiatric patients seeking mental health evaluations in the emergency department (ED) is on the rise. Through this collaboration, Penn State Health physicians located at PPI in Harrisburg electronically evaluate such patients who present at the Hershey Medical Center ED.

Informing Care through Research

Penn State Health’s research endeavors are robust — at any given time, 500 to 600 open clinical investigations are underway in multiple specialties, including cardiology and pediatric and adult oncology.

“What differentiates us is the breadth of the clinical research we perform, as well as who sponsors our research,” Dr. Hillemeier says. “Many of our studies are sponsored by the federal government, health organizations or foundations.”

A National Leader in Education

Approximately 20 percent of prospective medical students in the United States apply to Penn State College of Medicine, making it one of the most competitive programs in the country. The college currently has nearly 600 medical students, 60 physician assistant students and almost 300 graduate students pursuing advanced degrees in various scientific disciplines.

One point of differentiation of the College of Medicine curriculum is the availability of accelerated clerkships that enable students to complete their training sooner. The clerkships are currently available to medical students pursuing careers in family and community medicine. Similar programs are in development in the areas of emergency medicine, neurosurgery, internal medicine and orthopedics.

Each year, Penn State College of Medicine graduates 150 newly minted physicians, 60 physician assistant students and 80 master’s and PhD students. On any given day, the organization is also training more than 600 physicians in medical residency and fellowship programs.

In fiscal year 2015–2016, for example, Penn State College of Medicine obtained $109 million in external research funding. Some of this funding came from the National Institutes of Health, which awarded the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute a $20 million, four-year continuation grant in 2016. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute awarded Penn State Health $2.2 million in funding to participate in a new diabetes research network and to assess the usefulness of obesity counseling.

“A great advantage of our research is that it’s often able to focus on issues that are essential to the people who live in our region, such as obesity and heart disease,” Dr. Hillemeier says. “As a case in point, we have multiple efforts addressing obesity. Some studies are focused on diabetes, while others look at the role of obesity early in life versus later in life. This allows us to examine what therapies and behavioral modifications will be effective in these populations.”

To view a list of ongoing clinical trials, visit For information about specialty care at Hershey Medical Center, visit