UC San Diego Health Awarded for Efforts to Reduce Health Disparities

Program treats sickle cell patients experiencing vaso-occlusive crises same day

Mary Chapman avatar

by Mary Chapman |

Share this article:

Share article via email
A doctor and patient speaking through a video appointment.

UC San Diego Health has won the 2022 California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems (CAPH) Quality Leaders Award in the health equity category for its  same-day outpatient infusion program, which seeks to mitigate healthcare disparities in sickle cell disease (SCD).

Each year, the CAPH recognizes initiatives by member systems that improve and advance equitable healthcare. Health equity means everyone has the opportunity to gain their highest level of health.

Adult SCD patients in California have limited access to care, and their life expectancy is a decade less than the rest of the U.S. To address the care gap, UC San Diego Health established a comprehensive adult sickle cell program and is a member of Networking California for Sickle Cell Care, which seeks to improve care access and quality.

The new UC San Diego Health program established same-day treatment protocols for sickle cell patients experiencing painful vaso-occlusive crises (VOCs). SCD disproportionately affects people of African and Hispanic descent, a patient population said to often face racial discrimination, particularly when seeking treatment.

“On behalf of the medical team at UC San Diego Health, I am thrilled to accept this award from CAPH,” said Srila Gopal, hematologist and medical director of the UC San Diego Health sickle cell program, in a university press release. “The award recognizes our universal commitment to caring for patients in a safe, timely and equitable manner, regardless of race or ethnicity. In this case, we developed a novel approach to caring for patients with sickle cell disease in medical crisis.”

Recommended Reading

Serious Gum Disease With Sickle Cell May Lead to Repeat Pain Crises

Outpatient program an alternative to the emergency department

Developed on the health system’s telehealth platform to improve workflow, the outpatient program for individualized pain control is meant to be an alternative to the emergency department, where many patients otherwise would be treated. Due to the program, emergency room visits have significantly decreased.

Patients in extreme pain are usually seen the day symptoms arise and as soon as infusion slots open. Timely treatment, which may include the administration of fluids, pain medications, antibiotics, and blood transfusions, is critical to protect vital organs.

“Sickle cell disease is a disease of significant health care disparities,” said Patty Maysent, CEO of UC San Diego Health. “Our team took the initiative to investigate the issue and to develop an effective telemedicine strategy and program to help patients receive patient-centered care in a timely fashion.”

The blood disorder is thought to affect about 100,000 U.S. residents and occur in 1 in every 365 births of Black or African American infants.

“For patients in sickle cell crisis, intense pain can be accompanied by anemia and infections leading to tissue damage and strokes,” said Gopal. “Unfortunately, these patients often face bias and discrimination from providers who incorrectly assume that requests for pain management are a ‘drug seeking’ behavior for opioids rather than a legitimate health emergency.”

Through the telehealth program, healthcare providers and patients can easily communicate, permitting timely treatments. The initiative coordinates care among outpatient and infusion SCD teams, which include physicians, nurse care managers, advanced care providers, and schedulers.

Future plans include expanding the program to accommodate more patients, offering after-hours treatment, and collaborating with the emergency department to redirect sickle cell patients needing treatment to the infusion center.