Spotlight: Gastroenterology Department

Date: September 15, 2017

(This article originally ran in the Spring, 2017 issue of Giving Strength) 

Gastroenterologists at BID–Needham value an old-fashioned “patient to caregiver” relationship, with state-of-the-art techniques

Greater Boston is fortunate to have excellent doctors and excellent gastroenterology care—but the gastroenterology department at BID–Needham stands out. Led by chief Dr. Sonal Ullman, Dr. Steven Cohen and newest team member, Dr. Michal Tomczak, the group is solely focused on quality, safety and a comprehensive approach for its patients.

“Being hospital-affiliated and not an independent clinic, we spend a lot of time on our exams and that’s a huge benefit for patients. We’re not rushed, and our patients feel that. It feels like an old-fashioned ‘patient to caregiver’ relationship,” says Dr. Cohen.

Dr. Ullman believes this special connection is also due in part to the nursing staff. 

“Our nurses are the friendliest, highest-quality nurses I've ever met. They provide patients with an incredible experience from start to finish.”

Taking care of the entire patient

The department performs procedures like colonoscopies that have often been considered routine. The reality is much more complex: “We take care of a large number of patients with complicated medical problems,” says Dr. Cohen. “Having such a high level of experienced, critical care nursing staff is a huge benefit for patient safety.” 

The inpatient care and specially trained intensivist physicians in the Intensive Care Unit at BID–Needham allow the gastroenterology team to care for even the most critically ill inpatients. A comprehensive approach to patient care is made possible by BID–Needham’s tight-knit community of clinicians. The most recent addition to the department, Dr. Tomczak, recognized that immediately: 

“Everyone—all the specialists and hospitalists—know each other and enjoy a good collegial relationship. There is communication on multiple levels between the physicians and mid-level providers, and connections with different departments that work closely with us. Very often, we are taking care of patients as a multi-group specialty.”

A focus on quality and safety

Dr. Ullman serves as vice president of the medical staff and the chief of medicine at BID–Needham. “I have an interest in the quality of care throughout the entire hospital,” she says. “My work with the medical staff allows me to contribute to and be an active part of the community.”

The dedication and commitment shown by the gastroenterologists translates into tangible results for patients. The frequency of polyps detected in the colon is higher at BID–Needham than national standards. The team makes colonoscopies a more comfortable experience by using state-of-the-art equipment that insufflates the colon with carbon dioxide, one of the only units in the area that uses this method. This method decreases distention, discomfort and bloating. 

“It’s a dramatic benefit for the patient,” says Dr. Cohen. If patients are unable to complete colonoscopies, virtual colonoscopy, which is an x-ray procedure, can be offered on the same day—a unique capability for the gastroenterologists.

The future holds promise

Looking to the future of gastroenterology, Drs. Cohen, Tomczak and Ullman believe that they are going to find more ways to accurately prevent colon cancer and better ways to risk stratify patients. Colon cancer is common and often preventable by doing colonoscopies; screening is indicated for all patients aged 50 and older and for some patients under the age of 50 if they have a family history of colon polyps or colon cancer.

“Genetic markers are going to be useful in tailoring these procedures for patients who need them most, and avoiding them for patients who don’t,” says Dr. Cohen.

The more immediate future for the group is creating buzz in the hospital: early plans are in the works to create a leading-edge endoscopy unit in a new clinical center. Slated to open in 2018, this new space will be designed by the clinicians, keeping their patients’ safety and comfort in mind.

“We are actively envisioning a new endoscopy unit that allows us to work more efficiently and provide more services for patients,” says Dr. Ullman. “The new state-of-the-art facility will only enhance our commitment to providing the highest quality gastroenterology care.”