Each year, thousands of patients cycle through the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Clinical Center, the largest research hospital in the world, to take part in extensive clinical trials. Patients there in need of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery services have typically been cared for by doctors from the surrounding community. But several months ago, the Johns Hopkins Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) forged a new type of consult-service agreement that allows Johns Hopkins doctors to provide this care.
Johns Hopkins is among the few academic medical centers collaborating in this way with the NIDCD, and the department is the first at Johns Hopkins to pioneer this approach, says Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist–head and neck surgeon Clint Allen, one of the doctors in the Johns Hopkins Otolaryngology Consult Service at the center.
Seven years ago, Johns Hopkins started a different collaboration that paved the way for this one. At that time, Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist–head and neck surgeon Wade Chien became the first NIDCD otolaryngology surgeon-scientist from Johns Hopkins, part of a mentored, career-development program open to junior faculty at academic medical centers. This program allows doctors to maintain their surgical skills while enabling them to conceive, develop and test novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies through translational research that bridges basic science, medicine and surgery.
Through this program, Chien started his own intramural research program at the NIDCD that focused on gene therapy research for hearing loss. Allen soon joined him, followed by their Johns Hopkins colleague Nikki Schmitt. Now, all three run their own research programs at NIH.
“It’s been a great opportunity to perform research ranging from basic science to clinical trials at this world-class research institution,” says Chien.
But with much of their time spent at NIH, the three wanted to do more. That’s how the Johns Hopkins Otolaryngology Consult Service arose, explains Schmitt.
The service allows faculty members within the Johns Hopkins Department of Otolaryngology– Head and Neck Surgery clinical privileges at NIH, affording the opportunity for Johns Hopkins doctors to provide subspecialty expertise and care to many in the community, she says.
It also gives Johns Hopkins faculty members the opportunity to care for patients with unusual conditions that many doctors rarely see in their careers. For example, Schmitt recently cared for patients with the immune disorders Job syndrome and relapsing polychondritis, both rare conditions that have ear-, nose-, and throat-related manifestations.
The service has been so successful, says Allen, that NIH and other Johns Hopkins departments are investigating similar collaborations.
“We hope that the relationship we’ve built here,” he says, “serves as a model for other departments and clinical services.”
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