When a patient suffers a heart attack, stroke, or other serious medical emergency, access to specialists—or tertiary care—can be vital, and timing is critical.

For Scott Newton, a DNP student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and former volunteer ambulance dispatcher, it’s familiar territory--and a place he feels he can make a big difference.

Johns Hopkins Hospital has access to helicopters, ambulances, and airplanes strategically positioned throughout the region to transport patients during emergencies. It’s the responsibility of Newton, assistant director of nursing at Johns Hopkins Lifeline, and his crew of clinical experts to sound the alarm over barriers to tertiary care and get rolling on ways to remove them. For Newton, it’s the next step in a transportation career that began 26 years ago with that dispatcher gig.

A registered nurse and paramedic, Newton has firsthand experience with the underlying issues that create hurdles in critical care transportation. “I have seen the barriers and complexities of communicating between hospitals while transporting patients by ambulance or helicopter to tertiary care under time-sensitive conditions,” Newton says. The idea is to develop “a ‘one-stop shop’ and simple system” that will make it easier for patients and emergency teams alike.

“This is right up Scott’s alley,” says DNP program Director Mary Terhaar, DNSc, CNS, RN. “It’s about more than keeping the trains running on time, which of course is essential. But Scott never forgets that there’s a human being on the other end of that helicopter ride.”

As part of his DNP capstone project, Newton—unsurprisingly—took to the road and the sky, visiting health systems around the U.S. and airlifting the best of the best practices back to Hopkins.

“After going on a national tour, we identified some of the best practices to integrate into my DNP work,” he says. “We visited 10 different transfer systems, and everyone is trying to address this issue in their own way. Patients are counting on us to get it right.”

As healthcare reform expands coverage to more of the American population, access to tertiary care will become an even greater challenge, and experts like Newton plan to have systems ready when they are needed most. Within the past two years, since internal changes were made at Hopkins, there has been a 16 percent growth in successful emergency transfers. Newton knows more improvement is always possible, but he’s up for the challenge.

He says it’s a thrill “to think that my DNP work will contribute to the practice of nursing, across complex systems of care, by providing new solutions for access to tertiary care centers around the world.”

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