Primary-Care Physician Impacts COVID-19 Care, UW-CTRI Research

Installment six in our series on BREATHE 2 collaborators

UW-CTRI collaborator Carlos Roberto Jaén (right), MD, PhD, recently co-authored a USA Today article calling on CMS to cover phone calls that deliver primary-care treatment of COVID-19 and other medical needs since many insurers weren’t covering those calls if they didn’t involve a video element. But, given the sudden crush of COVID-19 cases and the need for social distancing, in-person or video calls often weren’t possible.

Dr. Carlos Jaén
Dr. Carlos Jaén

After USA Today published the article, CMS changed course, covering telephone calls for primary care. That’s the type of leadership Jaén has displayed his entire career: opening doors for more people to live healthier lives.

He has done so in collaboration with UW-CTRI since 1994 when he began serving on the panel for the Clinical Practice Guideline: Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence chaired by UW-CTRI Director Dr. Michael Fiore. Jaén served as vice chair of the 2008 guideline.

“Carlos has been a physician colleague, a scientific expert, an activist, and supporter of us almost since we were a Center,” Fiore said. “And he’s a sweet guy, always thinking of others and how to help.”

“COVID-19 is an opportunity to redouble efforts on tobacco use,” Jaén said, “to reach the poor and underserved who might be smoking.”

One way Jaén is collaborating with UW-CTRI to do just that is with the BREATHE 2 center grant, which partners with Advocate Aurora Health and UW Health to leverage technology to reach out to smokers in those health systems and offer care to quit smoking. While the study has had to adapt to the pandemic, researchers carry on, hopeful for a time soon when the study can get back in full rhythm.

“I see my role for BREATHE 2 as looking at the broader picture of what’s happening with the delivery of care,” Jaén said, offering the viewpoint of a practicing primary-care physician, and what those doctors are facing today in real-world environments. “I’m very excited to be participating. It has been a wonderful experience.”

“Carlos has had a tremendous influence on our work,” said UW-CTRI Research Director Dr. Tim Baker, “consistently guiding us towards asking questions that address the central issue—what can we do that will best help the patient. He has a great understanding of healthcare systems and how they can be used to meet our research and clinical goals and is a calm and wise presence—it has been a joy to know him and work with him.”

A member of the National Academy of Medicine, Jaén is the Chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Texas-San Antonio. He hopes to continue helping UW-CTRI to interpret its research findings for clinicians and disseminate it to health systems via outreach in a way that can be incorporated into standard care.

“If you simply ask an individual physician to do something new, it won’t happen unless you work it into their health system to make it easy,” Jaén said.

Jaén isn’t just busy at work, he also has seven kids and three grandkids. “I enjoy cooking and feeding my folks,” he said. “I go for walks daily and I love to read nonfiction.” He’s reading Good Habits Bad Habits and, through the book, sees the connection between our logical and automatic impulses and tobacco addiction. “It’s enlightening; I like to read stuff like that.”

Despite challenges such as COVID-19 and tobacco dependence, he remains hopeful. “I think it’s encouraging that many of the greatest inventions, advancements and the Renaissance came out of very tough times.”