July 27, 2007

New faculty, clinics enhance Neurology’s capabilities

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David Uskavitch, M.D.

New faculty, clinics enhance Neurology’s capabilities

Brian Thompson, M.D.

Brian Thompson, M.D.

Peter Donofrio, M.D.

Peter Donofrio, M.D.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Department of Neurology has undergone significant changes in the past few months, including a reorganization of its outpatient clinics, the addition of new faculty and the founding of a monthly multidisciplinary clinic for patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

“We have been very fortunate to recruit highly experienced and excellent general and neuromuscular neurologists to Vanderbilt,” said Robert Macdonald, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the department.

Earlier this year, David Uskavitch, M.D., and Brian Thompson, M.D., who previously had been in private practice with Neurologic Consultants at Saint Thomas Hospital, joined the Division of General Neurology, with Uskavitch as division director and clinical director of the General Neurology Clinic.

Uskavitch and Thompson joined Gary Duncan, M.D., professor of Neurology, and Christine Dong, M.D., assistant professor of Neurology, in the division.

“I was really impressed by the direction the department is heading in,” Uskavitch said. “It's moving up in terms of national recognition.”

In addition to the General Neurology Clinic, which is in The Vanderbilt Clinic, other neurology clinics are the Sleep, Epilepsy and Neuromuscular Clinic, in the basement of the Preston Research Building, and the Headache, Stroke and Movement Disorders Clinic, also in TVC.

“Our mission is to provide prompt and comprehensive outpatient neurology consultative services for the referring physicians of the Vanderbilt Medical Group as well as referring physicians in the region,” Uskavitich said.

“We are committed to providing timely consults to the Vanderbilt and greater Middle Tennessee community, and these recruitments are important steps in meeting this goal,” Macdonald said.

Macdonald has also asked each of the four general neurologists to affiliate with one of the specialties within the department.

Special clinical interests include multiple sclerosis for Uskavitch, sleep medicine for Thompson, memory disorders for Duncan, and epilepsy for Dong.

Donofrio directs ALS Clinic

The clinic for patients with ALS began in May and will continue monthly under the direction of Peter Donofrio, M.D., professor of Neurology, who came to Vanderbilt last year and is chief of the Neuromuscular Section of the Department.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Those who contract ALS typically have a life expectancy of fewer than five years, Donofrio said.

The ALS clinic is supported by the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and allows patients to see not only a physician skilled in the treatment of the disease, but also a large multidisciplinary team including an ALS nurse, social worker, physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech pathologist, consultant in assistive technology, pulmonologist, respiratory therapist, nutritionist and chaplain.

A representative from the MDA instructs patients on the benefits available to them. The organization also operates a service to lend patients equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers and communication devices.

“One day, one location, and many health care providers — it's seamless medicine,” said Donofrio, who developed and oversaw a similar clinic at Wake Forest University for more than 10 years.

“There are so many people with ALS in Tennessee in need of this clinic.” About 30,000 people in the United States have the disease at any given time. Between 30 percent and 40 percent of the ALS patients followed at VUMC are from other states, Donofrio said.

Patients are referred to the Vanderbilt ALS Clinic after an initial appointment at the Neurology Clinic for a definitive diagnosis.

Each patient will be seen in the clinic approximately every three months for continuity of care.

“Dr. Donofrio brings more than 25 years of experience in evaluating and treating patients with neuromuscular disease,” Macdonald said. “He brings a new level of clinical expertise in this area to Vanderbilt. In addition to seeing patients, he will direct the EMG [electromyogram] laboratory and is committed to a substantial increase in our ability to provide EMG studies.”

Such studies reveal how well nerves transmit electrical signals.