Dennis Doherty emerges as the next home oxygen icon

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Forty years ago, New York cardiologist Alvan Barach served as the physician patriarch of ambulatory oxygen by promoting home-based respiratory therapy. Later on, his protege, Denver pulmonologist Tom Petty, continued his mission of advancing respiratory therapy, serving as a staunch advocate for home oxygen patients. Now that torch is being passed once more, with Kentucky pulmonologist Dennis Doherty emerging as the successor.
Doherty, professor of medicine and chief of the University of Kentucky's Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, studied under Petty in the early 1980s and succeeded him as chairman of the National Lung Health Education Program last year. At age 71, Petty is in fragile health and ready to scale back his professional activities, but not before he and Doherty co-host the 6th Annual Oxygen Consensus Conference together in Denver, Aug. 26-28.
Doherty's involvement with the executive committee of the COPD Coalition and COPD Caucus as well as various national clinical respiratory groups gives the home oxygen provider community a distinguished spokesman -- an important asset in the industry's battle to preserve its share of eroding Medicare apportionments.
"Clearly his expertise is in pulmonary and critical care medicine, but Dr. Doherty understands patients on long-term oxygen therapy," said Vernon Pertelle, national respiratory manager for Lake Forest, Calif.-based Apria. "He is someone we can rely on who is a resource on oxygen patients in the home. He will continue in Dr. Petty's footsteps and is a worthy successor."
Likewise, Bob Fary, vice president of sales for Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Inogen, believes Doherty will continue the progress of his predecessors.
"He has a realistic view of things and we are excited about working with him," Fary said.
After completing his medical school training and internal medicine residency at the Ohio State College of Medicine in Columbus in 1983, Doherty served a pulmonary and critical care fellowship at the University of Colorado Medical Center and National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, where he remained on faculty for 11 years. He relocated to Kentucky in 1996.
To date, Doherty has published more than 100 articles, abstracts, and chapters on the subjects of acute lung inflammation, chronic lung inflammation, obstructive lung disease and pulmonary fibrosis. He has also conducted several clinical research studies in the areas of asthma, COPD, and pulmonary fibrosis.
It was during his time in Colorado that Doherty served under Petty, and said he is humbled by the thought of even being compared to him.
"He taught me how to be a leader and a clinician researcher," Doherty said. "He's given me a valuable perspective and always told me to follow my beliefs. His are big shoes and to think I could fill them would be capricious."
But Petty himself says he can't think of a better successor.
"Dennis is a bright star in the field of pulmonology," he said. "He's a gifted physician and charismatic leader. If it's time to pass the baton, I can't think of a better man to pass it to."
Doherty will join his mentor at the podium of the Oxygen Consensus Conference, a by-invitation-only event Petty founded six years ago for clinicians from all sectors of respiratory therapy. Representatives from CMS, the payer community and numerous clinical provider groups have been invited to attend.
"It truly is a consensus conference," Doherty said, "but it will only succeed if the criticism is constructive."
In examining the current state of home respiratory therapy, Doherty says his main concerns are ensuring that patients get the best treatments possible in the most cost-effective manner. The new generation of portable oxygen equipment fills that bill, but more research is definitely warranted, he said.
"More studies are needed to identify the true criteria for validating what has already been done, such as the gray cut-off zone for portables," he said.
While some of his peers may view respiratory providers with a cynical eye, Doherty calls them "the foot soldiers on the front line" who play a critical role in the care equation. Without adequate funding, they can't do their jobs properly, he said.
"Suppliers need to make a living -- they can't give the equipment away, so we need to ensure the most appropriate reimbursement for them," he said. "We need to raise this issue with primary care physicians, because they write 90% of the oxygen prescriptions. They need to prescribe the best device for each patient."