Meet Our Practice Enhancement Assistants (PEAs)

Cara Vaught, MPH

Cara obtained her undergraduate degree in Zoology from the University of Oklahoma  in Norman. She completed her graduate degree at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center receiving her Master's in Public Health with an emphasis on health promotion. She began with a career as a diabetes health educator for the Oklahoma State Health Department in 2001. She was then given the opportunity to work in research as a practice enhancement assistant in 2002. Topics of research she has been involved in include diabetes, colon cancer, smoking cessation in pregnant women, and prevention measures such as diet, exercise, smoking cessation and alcohol abuse.

Crystal Turner, MPH

Crystal obtained her undergraduate degree in Sociology with an emphasis in Human Sexuality from the University of Central Oklahoma. She completed her MPH from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC) in 2000. Her experiences in research began in 1999 as a graduate research assistant at OUHSC in the Native American Preventive Research Department. It wasn’t until 2003 she began her services in the Research Division of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine. Crystal’s position as a PEA has brought her full circle in the world of prevention. She has the opportunity to work at the clinical level to help evaluate and improve quality of health care.

Eileen Merchen, MS

Eileen began her professional career as an instructor in the adult education division of Omaha Public Schools after receiving a B.S. in Home Economics and a Nebraska teaching certificate. She helped develop and teach classes in the Interior Design Assistant Program. She received a M.S. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Nebraska and then held counseling positions at Goodwill Industries and the Nebraska Methodist School of Nursing both in Omaha, NE. Eileen also has an A.D. in computer programming and has worked as a software engineer in the banking and financial field.

What is a PEA?


Practice enhancement assistants (PEAs) are individuals who develop a relationship with a group of practices over a period of time, generally eight practices per PEA, in order to help them to evaluate and improve their quality of care. This is generally accomplished through practice audits and feedback, patient satisfaction surveys, staff training, “cross-fertilization” (sharing of ideas among the eight practices), coordination of quality improvement initiatives, and provision of specific materials and resources (flow sheets, computer training, etc.). A PEA also functions as a research assistant, making it easier for practices to participate in research projects undertaken by the network. OKPRN demonstarted the effectiveness of practice facilitation in a number of studies and seminal review articles.

Check out the compilation of our past PEA Questions of the Month as an example for eliciting relevant questions and finding answers in a PBRN through practice facilitators. Questions come from OKPRN members and answers are collected from the entire community.

What can a PEA do for you?


1. A PEA can help you and your staff implement changes in your practice that is suggested by research or clinical practice guidelines:

  • Identify the changes that practices want to make

  • Provide information about how others are doing it

  • Identify resources needed


2. A PEA can help you and your staff use health information technology:

  • Train physicians and staff to use information systems

  • Assist practices with glitches and problems that occur in their use of information technologies

  • Identify practice/community needs regarding consultations/referrals

  • Identify practice/community needs for CME


3. A PEA can help in the facilitation of research:

  • Train physicians and staff to follow study protocols

  • Collect data for studies requiring intermittent data collection

  • Audit and or pull charts for others to audit

  • Provide additional study cards and other materials

  • Transport study data to the center

  • Update practices regarding the status and findings from recent or ongoing studies

  • Collect new research ideas from practitioners and staff

  • Collect ideas for improving research protocols

  • Get feedback on the types of studies being done

  • Get feedback on manuscripts prior to submission

© 2020 OKPRN HIT Solutions. Webmaster: Zsolt Nagykaldi, PhD


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