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Community Partner Spotlight: The American Lung Association

Rubina AberolRubina Abrol, M.D., physician leader for the American Lung Association (ALA) in Texas, loves her role in patient education and provider advocacy, in part because before she became a physician, she was a patient. A cancer survivor, Dr. Abrol was diagnosed with lymphoma in her first year of medical school. In her third year, she contracted pneumonia and ignored her symptoms.

“I collapsed at the airport on my way home to my family,” she says. “I had so much bacteria in my system that I was septic. All my organs failed, and I was on life support with very little chance of regaining consciousness. But I did. I was fortunate because I was covered by my parents’ insurance, and I thought, what about those who don’t have that opportunity? After that experience I wanted to do something to help balance the scales of healthcare inequality.”

Toward that goal, she stepped away from clinical medicine to chronic disease management in public health. There she found an opportunity to provide resources for providers to help them educate their patients effectively.

That is exactly what she has been doing through a year-old collaboration with Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center focused on reducing emergency department visits for pediatric patients with persistent asthma. During that time, ER visits for this population have dropped dramatically.

“Using evidence-based guidelines, we were able to streamline the way each clinic approached the diagnosis and management of pediatric asthma,” she says. “Through the initiative, parameters for patient education, asthma trigger identification and reduction, and patient self-assessment were built into the clinic’s methods of pediatric asthma management.

This resulted in an increase in patient compliance and adherence to self-management goals, and an increase in good healthcare utilization as evidenced by a reduction in unnecessary emergency department visits.

“We’re seeing better engagement from pediatric patients and their caregivers on their medications, a good example of the power of education,” she adds. “We’ve since reached out to adult patients with asthma, COPD and sleep apnea, and in November we’ll be collaborating on lung cancer awareness events.

The American Lung Association recently partnered with the Ad Council to launch its “Saved by the Scan” initiative, which encourages providers to use low-dose CT scans in high-risk patients in an effort to facilitate the early detection and screening of lung cancer.

“Through Memorial Hermann, we have found an exceptional healthcare partner that shares that same goal,” Dr. Abrol says. “During the month of November, we’ll be helping to educate and empower providers to promote better utilization of the screening technique. We also will be educating the system’s patient population by providing our lung cancer resources, including access to our online and in-print patient education libraries, treatment options and options to join support groups for patients and caregivers. These events include collaborating on resources for provider panel discussions and patient education summits.”

The long-range goal is better healthcare utilization. “When an adult or pediatric patient is continuously in the ER because they’ve run out of medications, we have to ask ourselves where did we go wrong? How can we do it better to make sure our patients know how to avoid that ER visit? If patients are discharged with pages of information and a machine to measure lung volumes, it can be confusing. We envision having an ALA volunteer contact the patients to educate them. I think we can make that happen.”

Dr. Abrol recently launched another one-year learning collaborative with all 10 Memorial Hermann School-based Health Centers. She is pleased to be working with Memorial Hermann for a number of reasons. “The System gives the American Lung Association connection with an enormous number of patients with diseases of the lung,” she says. “They’re innovative and open to piloting programs that can be extended to other hospitals in the community. They understand that patient education is a fine art. You want to provide accurate and user-friendly education to patients without overwhelming them. We’re looking to bring more American Lung Association resources to patients at Memorial Hermann. The sky’s the limit with this.”