Dr. Divya Sharma remembers seeing a patient whose mother had implored her to quit smoking from her death bed. The patient wanted desperately to quit but didn’t know how. Dr. Sharma hugged her and helped her get started, but wished she had more time and resources to offer.

Now as the physician coordinator from Dean Health System working with UW-CTRI on the BREATHE study, she can offer patients at her clinic dedicated coaching from on-site BREATHE counselors, as well as free medications. 

“We’ve been telling patients who smoke, even before the study began, ‘I know you’re struggling, but there is help on the way,’” Sharma said. “When I see a patient in the office, I’m dealing with 15 other things. To have a program with one-on-one counseling, it’s very effective. This is the way to reach out to people and make a difference. The (BREATHE) counselors are fantastic. Very friendly, approachable, very helpful. You don’t want someone who is aggressive telling patients what they have to do. You want to help them one-on-one, that’s what patients are looking for.”

BREATHE has been launched at two pilot clinics, one at Aurora Sinai in Milwaukee and the other at a Dean clinic in Janesville, where Dr. Sharma is a practicing physician.

“The first day of the pilot study was Jan. 20, it was completely seamless and very successful.”

She was approached by her medical director to work on the project. “I didn’t know what the role would be or what would be required of me. So I e-mailed (UW-CTRI Assistant Director for Research) Dave Fraser and asked what they were looking for. After that, I met several times with Dave. He and (UW-CTRI Senior Research Specialist) Holly Prince have been wonderful to work with. I arranged planning-team meetings at the Dean offices.”

Dr. Sharma has been participating in the Physician Leadership Development Program in which her group’s project is on smoking cessation. “So I’m absolutely thrilled to have even been considered to work with UW and Dean on this project. I’m so excited that our site is the first that we’ve launched this project.”

Her clinic has a higher percentage of smokers than the statewide adult prevalence.

“The staff has been very excited and feels a strong sense of commitment in helping our patients quit smoking by using this program.” Sharma said BREATHE counselors are considered part of the wider Dean family.

Sharma’s team worked with Epic on the best practice alert and got approval from the compliance department. The roomers received training from BREATHE staff. “In the end, it has shaped up very nicely,” Sharma said.

“Dr. Sharma has been a complete pleasure to work with on this project,” Fraser said. “She has had a true commitment to do ‘whatever it takes’ to help smokers and to make the project a success.”

“I’m honored that UW collaborated with Dean,” Sharma said. “This will make a big difference. I want to thank (UW-CTRI Director) Dr. Michael Fiore and all the people I’ve worked with. It has been a pleasure. This is what we went into medicine for, to help people and make behavioral modifications for better health.”