Integrating Public Health, Occupational Medicine, and Infectious Disease Care and Research: Interview with Mayo Clinic’s Elie F. Berbari, M.D.
April 5, 2022 – By Jared Mueller, Senior Director – Mayo Clinic Innovation Exchange
Infectious disease (ID) research has long informed many disciplines: hospital medicine, occupational medicine, public health, and travel medicine are merely four fields among dozens that regularly call upon ID physicians’ expertise. The COVID-19 pandemic has expanded nearly every field’s and industry’s reliance on infectious disease experts. In recognition of this intensifying (and increasingly collaborative) work, Mayo Clinic this winter formed a new, integrated Division of Public Health, Infectious Diseases and Occupational Medicine at its Rochester, Minnesota campus — under the leadership of Elie F. Berbari, M.D.
Between 2017 and 2022, Dr. Berbari served as the chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Dr. Berbari is board-certified by the American Board of Infectious Diseases and holds the academic rank of Professor of Medicine. Since 2020, he has also served as an Executive Committee Member of Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 Employer Engagement Team.
Dr. Berbari is an alumnus of St. Joseph Medical School in Lebanon. A native of Beirut, Lebanon he completed an internship at Beirut’s Hôtel-Dieu de France Centre Hospitalier de l’Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth, where he later served on the faculty. Dr. Berbari also completed residencies in New Jersey and New York, and a fellowship at Mayo Clinic, before joining the Mayo Clinic staff in 2000.
Q: Can you share more about the new division you lead at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester, Minnesota campus?
EB: This division brings together the work of six dynamic sections at Mayo Clinic: Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Infectious Diseases, Occupational Medicine, Transportation Medicine, Clinical Informatics, and Hyperbaric and Altitude Medicine. Over the last two years, experts in those groups and our Infectious Diseases team have worked shoulder-to-shoulder to support Mayo Clinic, universities, global airlines, hospitality companies, barge and tanker operators, and other employers — all as they endeavored to keep customers, employees, and their community members safe.
Bringing these Mayo Clinic sections together will help us better align our resources and capabilities to support Mayo Clinic’s Bold. Forward. 2030 vision. Closer collaboration will help our team discover new ways to prevent, treat and cure infectious diseases, illnesses, and injuries. We’re also excited that this new divisional structure will help us innovate our patient-centric care delivery model, and Mayo’s accredited fellowship programs.
Q: You have recorded videos in English and Arabic (but not yet in French, another language you speak fluently!) to share masking best practices based on Mayo Clinic research, conducted by clinical and scientific experts in conjunction with Mayo’s Division of Engineering. Can you share your division’s current perspective on how masks and vaccines work in concert to reduce the spread of COVID-19?
EB: Achieving high levels of vaccination rates in a community is an important tool that will help us establish a “wall of immunity,” which will significantly reduce the risk of serious illness and COVID-19 driven hospitalization. Mask-wearing in high-risk situations has proven to decrease the risk of transmission and infection overall.
Q: A major pillar of your personal research agenda has been studying the prevention and management of osteoarticular and surgical site infections. Can you share more about the importance of that research?
EB: In the U.S. and countries around the world, longer lifespans are leading to a record number of older adults as a proportion of the population. Older adults are more likely to require orthopedic hardware to reconstitute musculoskeletal functions and decrease pain — a surgical intervention which carries with it the risk of prosthetic joint infections (PJIs) and other complications. The risk profile for these infections may vary depending on the joint that is being replaced, as well as for patients with rheumatoid arthritis or other conditions which impact their joint health.
While PJIs themselves are rare, research has found “significantly increased” mortality rates for some categories of patients who suffer from PJIs, when compared to other members of their age cohort. CDC data suggests that about 1% of the approximately one million relevant operations in the U.S. a year result in a PJI. Large population health prevention programs to reduce the risk of PJI will help us extend and save many lives.
Q: What breakthrough innovations in healthcare delivery or technology excite you most?
EB: We are in the early stages of a shift that will radically transform health and healthcare. COVID-19 has accelerated this transformation. This conversion has two pillars, centered around consumerism and digital transformation. The integration of artificial intelligence into the delivery of care is crucial to the success of this transformation as it will enable us to scale and deliver cutting edge medicine to an ever-greater number of patients.
In addition, the last two years of this pandemic has given us a road map on how to accelerate science discovery and delivery to patients with severe COVID-19. Why not learn form this experience and develop a similar road map to find cure for cancer and other chronic metabolic diseases? We are getting closer!
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