Pulmonary Disease Program at U.Va. Health System is Second in U.S. to Earn Joint Commission Certificate of Distinction

April 30, 2009 — The Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease program at the University of Virginia Health System has become the nation's second recipient of the Joint Commission's Certificate of Distinction for COPD.

A widely recognized symbol of quality, Joint Commission certification signifies that COPD care at U.Va. meets high national standards. It also recognizes the program's exceptional efforts to improve long-term patient outcomes.

To earn its Certificate of Distinction, U.Va.'s COPD program underwent an extensive, on-site evaluation by a Joint Commission reviewer. The reviewer assessed the program's processes and its ability to evaluate and improve care. He also conducted interviews with patients and staff.

U.Va.'s COPD program treats 2,000 patients annually for all stages of obstructive lung diseases including asthma, asthmatic bronchitis, chronic bronchitis and pulmonary emphysema. Patients travel from all parts of the Commonwealth, including the Eastern Shore, Richmond and southwestern Virginia and from several surrounding states including North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

"Our team worked diligently to qualify for Joint Commission Certification. To us, this achievement is a wonderful recognition of the extraordinary expertise and dedication our program offers to patients," said pulmonologist Dr. Y. Michael Shim, the program director.

At U.Va., COPD patients have access to a full range of services, including comprehensive diagnostics, non-surgical treatment, surgical options such as lung volume reduction and lung transplants, pulmonary rehabilitation, patient education programs and clinical trials. Now under way is a clinical trial of an intrabronchial valve, a tiny umbrella-shaped device inserted into the airway to improve a patient's breathing by mimicking effects similar to lung volume reduction surgery.

The COPD team at U.Va. includes experts in pulmonology, thoracic surgery, radiology, nursing, respiratory therapy and transplant services. "Patients receive great care when there is a team focused on delivering comprehensive care, partnering with other disciplines and using performance outcomes to improve care," COPD care coordinator Peggie Donowitz said.

A primary example of the center's multidisciplinary approach is the community-based cigarette cessation program offered at the Charlottesville Free Clinic. Providers include a retired thoracic surgeon, a respiratory therapist, a psychiatrist and a nurse practitioner as well as personnel from the COPD program.

While there are no curative therapies for COPD today, U.Va. researchers are engaged in a number of leading-edge, innovative projects to improve existing treatments and discover new ones. They are advancing knowledge on many fronts by studying sleep disorders in COPD, developing new drugs for pulmonary emphysema, assessing the potential of adult stem cells in treating and diagnosing pulmonary emphysema, determining the harmful effects of secondhand smoking on adolescents and participating in industry-sponsored trials to bring the latest therapies to COPD patients at U.Va. Funding for many of these projects is being provided by the National Institute of Health/the Heart, Lung, Blood Institute, the American Lung Association, private industry and foundations.

About Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

COPD obstructs the airways causing serious medical conditions that affect one in four adults. Nationally, it is the fourth-leading cause of death. The diseases included in the COPD classification are asthma (reactive airways), emphysema (airway collapse) and airway inflammation and secretions. The leading risk factors for developing COPD are cigarette smoking, exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke and exposure to coal dust and other occupational dusts and fumes.

About the Joint Commission's Certificate of Distinction for COPD

Announcing the launch of the COPD certification program in November 2007, Jean Range, the Joint Commission's executive director of Disease-Specific Care Certification, explained, "The Joint Commission's Certificate of Distinction for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease recognizes organizations that make exceptional efforts to foster better outcomes for COPD patients. Achievement of certification signifies that the services at these organizations have the critical elements to achieve long-term success in improving outcomes. It is the best signal to the community that the quality of care provided is effectively managed to meet the unique and specialized needs of COPD patients."