Meet Dr. Amy Harrison

CHOC Children’s wants its referring physicians to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Amy Harrison, a pediatric pulmonologist.

Amy Harrison, M.D.
Amy Harrison, M.D.

 

Q: What is your education and training?

A: I attended Indiana University School of Medicine. I completed both my pediatrics residency and fellowship in pediatric pulmonology at the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital.

Q: What are your administrative appointments?

A: I am the co-director of CHOC’s Cystic Fibrosis Center.

Q: What are your special clinical interests?

A:  Cystic fibrosis (CF), muscle weakness (muscular dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy), asthma and general pulmonary health, chronic disease.

Q: Are you working on any current research?

A: Our CF program was awarded the CF Fundamentals Learning and Leadership Collaborative in June 2015, which has allowed us to improve our CF care processes and clinical outcomes for people with cystic fibrosis.  We are currently studying ways to improve our patients’ knowledge of, and adherence to, prescribed pulmonary therapies.

 Q: How long have you been on staff at CHOC?

A: 5 years.

Q: Are there any new programs or developments within your specialty?

A:  Our CF program was awarded a mental health grant through the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to develop and implement a depression and anxiety screening program for patients with CF and their caregivers. Funds will enable the team to expand its social worker’s availability and have a designated psychologist to help patients and caregivers. They will provide screenings, evidence-based guidelines and follow-up care for depression and anxiety, as well as develop a community referral network of mental health providers. CHOC’s CF model, if successful, could be replicated in other specialty clinics.

In addition, we are excited to offer many cutting-edge therapies for CF patients including Orkambi and Kalydeco, medications that help the defective protein in CF function more normally, thus treating the underlying cause of CF.

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?

A: I see patients with a range of conditions, including asthma, chronic cough, recurrent pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy.

Q: What would you most like community/referring providers to know about you/your division at CHOC?

A: The pulmonary division at CHOC offers comprehensive care for all patients with lung disease and sleep disorders from extensive lung function testing to sleep studies and diagnostic procedures such as bronchoscopy. We also have comprehensive services for patients with sleep apnea, sleep breathing disorders including apnea monitors and BIPAP data analysis for clinical management. In addition, we also offer services in Huntington Beach, Mission Viejo, Corona and Pomona Valley.

Q: What inspires you most about the care being delivered here at CHOC?  

A: I enjoy caring for children with chronic conditions and helping them to find ways of living normal fulfilling lives.  I take great pride in my patient’s accomplishments and find their stories inspiring.  I most enjoy creating a true partnership with my patients and their families to find ways to improve their care.

 Q: Why did you decide to become a pediatric pulmonologist?

A: I was always interested in science from a very young age and pursued a medical education due to my own fascination with learning more about how our bodies work.  During my training, I developed asthma myself and found my strong relationships with my own medical professionals enormously helpful in empowering me to deal with a chronic disease.

Q: If you weren’t a physician, what would you be and why?  

A: I would probably set up my own Etsy shop and sell things I create! I often make homemade gifts for friends and family members for birthdays and holidays.  I also love to travel and exposing my children to new cultures.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?

A: I love spending time with my family and my three children, ages 2, 6 and 10.  In addition, I enjoy reading, visiting museums and traveling.

Q: What have you learned from your patients?

A:  I am continuously amazed by how strong and resilient my patients can be. I learn so much from them, and I have now had three patients tell me they were inspired to pursue a career in medicine because of our relationship and their disease.

 

Depression and Anxiety in Cystic Fibrosis Patients and Parents

A recent study of over 6,000 cystic fibrosis patients 12 years through adulthood, and over 4,000 parents, found that depression and anxiety were two to three times more elevated in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) and in parents of children with CF. Although depression and anxiety are common in CF, the stigma associated with mental health issues often make people less likely to talk to about them.

To address this issue, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CF Foundation) announced newly developed guidelines for screening and treating depression and anxiety. These guidelines are not a mandate from the CF Foundation to care centers, and they recognize that it will take time and effort for care center teams to adopt the recommendations.

CHOC Children’s  —  one of only a few affiliated care centers of the CF Foundation in Southern California and the only CF treatment center in Orange County — is one of the first care centers to adopt the recommended guidelines. At CHOC, we understand that living with CF and other chronic diseases can be emotionally challenging. We also know that depression and anxiety can have negative effects on physical health and the ability to follow a recommended treatment plan.

Dr. Amy Harrison, CHOC pulmonologist and CF specialist.
Dr. Amy Harrison, CHOC pulmonologist and CF specialist.

“The psychology component of our cystic fibrosis program really makes CHOC stand out,” said Amy Harrison, pulmonologist and CF specialist at CHOC. “Our multidisciplinary approach allows our care team to manage all aspects of CF from diagnosis to physical and mental health.”

CHOC is committed to ensure that every child in Orange County has access to mental health treatment without stigma or barriers, and we are pleased to be a recipient of the CF Foundation’s grant, Implementation of the Depression and Anxiety Guidelines: Award for a Mental Health Coordinator. The grant was offered to qualified care centers and allows the CF Foundation to collect best practices and disseminate them among all care centers.

The grant provides CHOC the opportunity to have a psychologist at every CF clinic to help patients and families. They will provide annual screenings, evidence-based interventions and follow-up care for depression and anxiety, as well as develop a community referral network of mental health providers.

Guideline Recommendations

The guidelines propose that just as measuring height, weight and PFTs are part of CF care, screening and treating depression and anxiety should become a routine part of CF care too. The screening consists of completing a couple of short questionnaires and is completely voluntary.

Recommendations include:

  • All patients 12 years and older should receive annual screening for depression and anxiety.
  • Parents of caregivers of patients aged 0-17 years should be offered annual screening for depression and anxiety.
  • A stepped process for prevention, screening, assessment and intervention. This can include talk therapy, medication or a combination of the two.

Referral to the CHOC Cystic Fibrosis Center

When a child is diagnosed or is suspected to have CF, a referral to an accredited CF care center can ensure that the child gets diagnosed properly, lives a long and healthy life, and receives treatment based on the most advanced research available. With access to a full range of CHOC pediatric subspecialists, the CHOC Cystic Fibrosis Center offers a number of life-enhancing technologies and treatments.

Our multidisciplinary CF clinic includes a board-certified pulmonologist and gastroenterologist, respiratory and physical therapist, nutritionist, nurse specialists, social worker and a psychologist. An endocrinologist and other specialists are also available to attend the appointment, if needed. Genetic testing and counseling can also be provided.

If you have a patient diagnosed with CF, or who has symptoms of CF, a pre-referral sweat test can be ordered at CHOC to confirm the diagnosis and refer for treatment. (CF Foundation guidelines recommend diagnosis confirmation by an approved CF Foundation care center.)

For appointments, please call the Patient Access Center at 888-770-2462 (888-770-CHOC).

Complete the CHOC Children’s Specialists Pulmonology Referral Request form located at http://www.choc.org/referralguidelines.

Fax ALL pertinent medical records to 855-246-2329 (855-CHOC-FAX).

To speak with a CHOC Children’s Specialists in Pulmonology, please call 714-509-8622.