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Spring 2014
BMM Current Issue
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Marilyn Li
A Breath of Fresh Air
Pediatrician opens airways for asthmatic kids.

Marilyn Li ’92 MD’96 knows firsthand what life is like for her pediatric asthma patients. She had asthma, too.

Today, board certified in pediatrics and allergy and immunology, she helps some 600,000 children in Los Angeles County treat their asthma symptoms. “I remember visiting the emergency room multiple times when I was very young,” says Li. “I felt suffocated.”

Thanks to the Breathmobile program, which sends fully stocked medical vans out to LA County schools on regular—and frequent—visits, children receive low-cost, accessible, highly effective treatment. “Families are amazed at what regular routine care with the proper medications can do,” says Li. “Before we treat these children, they may have made more than 50 visits to the ER. When they become Breathmobile patients, they visit the ER far less often.”

The program began with a single van in 1995; today, there are five in LA. Li, the Breathmobile’s director of quality improvement and assurance, is gratified that 10 sites around the country have adopted their program.

“Our model is clearly replicable and scalable,” she says, adding that she is eager to bring Breathmobiles to
neighborhoods throughout the U.S. The results are breathtaking. Notes Li, “In patients who have engaged with our Breathmobiles for at least a year, we’ve seen a 76 percent reduction in hospitalizations, a 62 percent reduction in ER visits, and more than a 75 percent reduction in missed school days, due to asthma.”

That  adds up to significant dollar savings and vastly improved quality of life, which is especially meaningful for the patients, many of whom lack access to quality, affordable care. It’s not just the patients who appreciate these outcomes. The LA County Board of Supervisors gave the program the “Top 10” award for enhancing citizens’ quality of life, and the Quality and Productivity Commission bestowed it with the “Million Dollar Club” award for verified cost savings, cost avoidance, and revenue generated. Li herself was named Outstanding Physician of the Year by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America in 2009.

Breathmobiles use the most current  recommended asthma treatments from the NIH Guidelines Expert  Panel III. And, notes Li, the Breathmobiles’ data contain the most comprehensive compilation of knowledge about asthma. “I’m thrilled to provide this care to children who were just like me,” says Li.

—Nancy Kirsch
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