Physician Profile: Dr. Joseph Vassalotti

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As one of the leading nephrologists in the United States, Joseph A. Vassalotti, M.D., is known for directing clinical dialysis programs for over 10 years and for his quality improvement expertise. Dr. Vassalotti uses his experience to educate the professional community on adopting clinical practices that are proven to help renal patients live longer, healthier lives. He is also very involved in helping people living with kidney disease understand how to manage their condition.

Dr. Vassalotti serves as the Lead Clinical Consultant for the ESRD National Coordinating Center, including the Fistula First Catheter Last (FFCL) Quality Improvement Project. FFCL focuses on supporting the renal community in efforts to improve vascular access outcomes, including access planning and access monitoring.

Dr. Vassalotti is the Chief Medical Officer of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), where his major focus is promoting integration of Clinical Practice Guidelines into routine care to improve patient outcomes. The NKF’s Kidney Disease Outcomes Quality Initiative (KDOQI) Clinical Practice Guidelines for Vascular Access are the basis of the FFCL initiatives.

He received his medical degree with Distinction in Research from the SUNY Stony Brook School of Medicine and completed a Fellowship in Clinical Nephrology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and holds a position as an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Nephrology, at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

On the topic of encouraging vascular access planning in the patient community, Dr. Vassalotti believes it’s important to address the emotional aspects of making this healthcare decision. “Hemodialysis vascular access is more than a surgical or interventional procedure,” he said. “Whether the person living with kidney disease is new to or established on hemodialysis, vascular access is emotionally challenging. Although the access is a lifeline that preserves health, it is also a continual reminder of kidney failure and being dependent on a machine that disrupts lifestyle.”

Community education about access planning steps and listening for potential concerns are key to helping people make informed decisions about their care. “Education and counseling about vascular access planning should foster understanding of the stepwise process, build trust in the dialysis care team, and ultimately improve the quality of care and outcomes for people living with kidney failure treated by hemodialysis,” Dr. Vassalotti said. Access planning efficiently addresses those 80% of individuals who initiate hemodialysis in the US with a dialysis catheter, many of whom would be better treated with an AV fistula or AV graft.

Ask the Experts is a continuing series of profiles and interviews, focusing on topics of interest to professionals in the kidney community.