Issue No. 1
Consultation: Vikesh Singh and Dana Andersen
Date: March 1, 2010
When it comes to multidisciplinary treatment, few organs require as many irons in the fire as the pancreas. And, while it’s pancreatic cancer that strikes the most fear, even benign diseases like pancreatitis need highly specialized and well-rounded care.
Patients with pancreatitis often require hospitalization while they receive medications for pain management, IV hydration and nutritional support. Once the patient’s condition is stabilized, his or her doctor may recommend certain medications or even surgery, not to mention lifestyle changes to manage the disease’s progression.
With so many specialized elements of therapy, patients benefit most when they’re receiving fully comprehensive care from a unified team of providers. That’s exactly what the Johns Hopkins Pancreatitis Center offers.
Characterized by inflammation of the pancreas, pancreatitis causes nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever, rapid pulse and stomach pain. Left untreated, the disease can become debilitating and life-threatening.
Understandably, people with pancreatitis, whose pain is often severe, don’t want to wait around or be sent to multiple locations for several appointments. Having all the relevant providers assembled and working together helps avoid such a hassle.
Founded about three years ago and one of only a handful in the country, the center taps the expertise of gastroenterologists, hepatologists, radiologists and surgeons.
“We see everyone from patients with acute to chronic to autoimmune-related pancreatitis,” says center director Vikesh Singh. “We also try to come up with a multidisciplinary management plan for these patients, many of whom have chronic pain that can be quite debilitating.”
“We can put our heads together and confer and agree on what the best plan is for our patients right then and there,” says pancreatic surgeon Dana Andersen. “Instead of making patients go to multiple physicians and wait for a consensus on how to approach their care, we can see them together and review their studies, look at their X-rays, and make a plan we all agree to.”
Treating pancreatitis can prove challenging for physicians without specific training, Andersen says, because it’s often difficult to keep up with the latest medical, endoscopic and surgical options available to patients. Consequently, many pancreatitis patients—whose chief complaint is usually chronic pain—may find themselves taking prescribed narcotics for long periods of time without having the cause of the pain resolved.
At Johns Hopkins, however, physicians and patients have easy access to surgeons, radiologists, endoscopists, nutrition specialists and other experts, as well as the latest research and treatment options. And they have it all under one roof.
“Some physicians are very happy to refer patients to us because they know this is a very difficult problem to treat,” Andersen says. “This is the best kind of patient care, and it leads to the best outcomes because we work together with our patients to discuss their problem, what the treatment options are and how to proceed.”