Pulmonologist Ashish Thakkar, MD, on Expanding Access to Care to Underserved Populations

Ashish Thakkar, MD, is a board-certified pulmonologist in Tennessee and practices primarily as a locum tenens. This month, Dr. Thakkar is celebrating his one-year anniversary with Sitka Medical Associates and his meaningful work to help us expand access to expert specialty care across the nation. We asked him to share his insights on improving the quality of care delivery with vConsults and his hope for the future of healthcare. 

What inspired you to become a pulmonologist? 

I went to medical school and became a pulmonologist after watching my mother suffer from moderate persistent asthma for most of my life. Some of my earliest childhood memories involved preparing and administering nebulized albuterol after watching her develop severe asthma, provoked by seemingly trivial exposures. At the time, I was too young to understand how dangerous that situation was, or how close I often came to losing my mother to this awful affliction. It was the idea of helping people suffering from similar conditions that drew me to pulmonology and I haven't looked back a day since. 

Before the pandemic, what was your perception of vConsults (video consults) and how has it changed? 

Before the pandemic, I viewed telemedicine as a fad or a niche idea reserved for boutique medicine. However, during the pandemic, I quickly saw how vital it could be in delivering necessary and much-needed care in difficult circumstances and to remote populations. Through Sitka, I’ve learned that the quality of the care delivered through vConsults can be equivalent, and often more expeditious, as care delivered in person. vConsults have proved vital in ensuring that at-risk populations can get the expert consultation they need in a timely fashion, particularly with pressing medical issues such as lung nodules and uncontrolled respiratory disease.

What are the challenges and benefits of vConsults today? 

Some challenges of telemedicine and vConsults involve addressing the skepticism that some providers may feel towards its quality or effectiveness. There may also be an assumption that the technology component might be a challenge for some less tech-savvy providers, but we know the technology is evolving and becoming more user-friendly. The benefits of telemedicine and video consultation services include the expeditious nature in which this care can be delivered. I’ve been able to refer my own patients for telemedicine specialty consultations and have them seen (via video) within 24 hours by otherwise very busy specialists. This has led to a much more quickly deployed care plan and further diagnostic workup. It’s a great way to expand access to care to underserved and vulnerable patient populations. 

How do you keep abreast of the latest developments in the healthcare industry?

In medical school and in practice, I was trained to believe in the value of evidence-based medicine. This is more true today than it ever has been before given the rapid pace of change in healthcare. To stay ahead, I am an avid reader of the New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, and the CHEST journal.

What is one thing you hope will change for good within the healthcare industry?

The best thing to arise from this pandemic is that people may get closer to and develop a deeper understanding of the scientific process, through which all discoveries in healthcare are made. In the same vein, I hope that with the advent of novel ideas in healthcare, we continue to provide high-quality, efficient, cost-effective healthcare to as many people as possible. I hope we can realize that access to high-quality affordable healthcare is a human right and not a privilege, and I suspect that telemedicine and vConsults will play a large role in delivering on this vision. 



Interested in joining our team of virtual care specialists? Learn more about Sitka Medical Associates