New project aims to improve lung disease care in Appalachia

A new program will use telehealth to bring together a University of Virginia Health System team with primary care providers in the Appalachian region of Virginia to improve lung disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

UVA will partner with Stone Mountain Health Services and The Health Wagon - which serve patients in Wise, Russell, Dickenson, Washington, Buchanan, Lee, Smyth, and Russell counties - with the support of a $10,000 National Science Foundation Grant.

"I'm excited to grow this program and think this has the potential to set the table for larger collaborative efforts to both prevent lung disease and better care for patients with lung disease," said UVA pulmonologist Drew Harris, MD, who also recently became medical director of the Black Lung Program at Stone Mountain Health Services.

"I am looking forward to the opportunity to coordinate with UVA and have additional resources available to provide comprehensive pulmonary care to our black lung patients and patients with other forms of lung disease," said Jody Willis, DNP, nurse practitioner for the Stone Mountain Health Services Black Lung Program A team-based coordinated effort will ensure our patients are receiving access to specialized care and aid in meeting a common goal of improved patient outcomes."

Improving Access to Lung Disease Care

Residents of the Appalachian region of Virginia have significantly higher-than-average rates of lung cancer and COPD, as well as some of the highest death rates nationally for black lung disease.

But because of their location, most residents in the region do not have easy access to large medical centers, and the supply of subspecialty physicians - including those who care for lung disease - is 28 percent lower than the national average. This means that the region's residents mainly rely on primary care providers to help them manage lung diseases.

To enhance the ability of primary care providers to prevent, diagnose and treat lung diseases, UVA pulmonary care experts will provide 10 education sessions through the UVA Center for Telehealth, with the topics determined through a survey of local primary care providers based on their needs and interests. Topics may range from smoking cessation efforts and lung cancer screening to sleep apnea and pulmonary rehabilitation.

"We want to work closely with the local care providers to determine how we can assist them in making sure their patients have easier access to specialized care for lung disease," said Kimberly Albro, DNP, FNP-BC, Project ECHO Program Manager for the UVA Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences. "Using a low-bandwidth platform, participants are able to join from a computer, landline or smartphone. No special equipment is required. They can join from home, the office, or out in the community. Greater connectivity results in broader participation, and we hope to reach as many providers across the region as the technology allows."

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