Salzbrenner receives grant for time-saving software

Stephen Salzbrenner, M.D., continues his quest to help providers with insurance prior authorizations.

Dr. Salzbrenner has been working on a healthcare software application since 2019. Along the way, he has worked with UNeTech (UNMC’s Startup Incubator) and H4 Technologies, an Omaha-based healthcare technology company who is developing the application.  The company he founded to build the software is called Breezmed. The software would allow providers to seamlessly complete the prior authorization process at the point of care.

This year, Dr. Salzbrenner received an I-Corps grant for $52,000. The I-Corps grants come from the National Institute of Health.  The Breezmed I-Corps team will consist of three individuals, including Dr. Salzbrenner, Joe Runge from UNeTech, and Shawntea (“Taya”) Moheiser from H4 Technologies.  Previously, Dr. Salzbrenner and his team were awarded $300,000 from NIH and $100,000 from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Breezmed will help physicians make an informed treatment decision based on what medications are available to prescribe, are evidence-based, and meet prior authorization criteria. If a prior authorization is needed, Breezmed, which has a patent-pending, will automate its completion and submission at the point of care, Dr. Salzbrenner said.

“The entire prior authorization process is like a virus that is going to eat away at providers’ passion for the medical profession, and I want to vaccinate myself and others against that.”

In the three years since creating Breezmed, Dr. Salzbrenner and his team have worked hard to simplify the prior authorization process and minimize manual processes which require paperwork, phone calls and faxes. 

“We completed a huge study. More than 1,200 providers responded,” Dr. Salzbrenner said. “What we found out was many prescribing providers bypass certain medicines, which could help the patient, because it’s easier to prescribe another medicine, due to insurance. It’s affecting patient care. Also, people are spending up to two days to fill our prior authorizations. That’s less time with patients, or they are hiring staff to do prior authorization. Right now, it’s hugely inefficient.”

Dr. Salzbrenner says the new grant will help continue research so that once launched, Breezmed will give doctors more time doing what they went into medicine to do in the first place — helping their patients.

“We want to find paying customers who see the need for a product like Breezmed,” he said. 

NAMIWalks set for May 22

Once again, members of the Department of Psychiatry will participate in NAMIWalks, a fundraiser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

Celeste Akers, Behavioral Health Connections Director in the Psychiatry Department, chairs Nebraska Medicine’s team for the event, which takes place virtually at 11 a.m. on May 22, 2021. This is the second year, the event, normally at an outdoor location, will be done virtually. According the NAMIWalks webpage, the virtual event encourages people to use their creativity and participate by doing the healthy activities they enjoy. Last year, participants not only walked, but also jump roped, baked healthy and unhealthy food and even made people laugh during the COVID-19 pandemic by doing stand-up comedy.

“You can walk, but you don’t have to walk,” Akers said. “You just need to do something healthy. If you garden, you can garden. If you do yoga, you can do yoga.”

This year’s theme is NAMIWalks Your Way: A United Day of Hope with the destination as always being Mental Health for All and Always.  May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

“After a long year and a long winter, this is a good time to get out,” Akers said. “Let’s all do something healthy, because it can also be also good for mental health.”

For more information on the event, clink this link for the NAMIWALKS Your Way Nebraska page.

Spotlight: Randy Vest, RN

Randy Vest has been a nurse with UNMC, ASAF, Midlands Hospital, Immanuel Hospital and Nebraska Medicine. He has worked in dual diagnosis, geriatrics, ECT, ACT and currently works with the Department of Psychiatry’s ASPIRE Team.

What made you apply at Nebraska Medicine? 

A big thanks to Phoebe Gearhart for calling and notifying me of an available position. I applied to work for an organization that provides multiple services for a sometimes-forgotten population of patients with mental health diagnoses. 

Why did you want to work in psychiatry?

 I have always felt a calling to help people. My first job in 1985 was in the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute (NPI) Dual Diagnosis unit. My calling to help and care for patients with mental health diagnoses bloomed into a passion. I learned some valuable lessons on that unit. People want to be listened to and know that someone cares. 

What do you enjoy about working in the department of psychiatry? 

Where do I start? First, I’m blessed to work with the best and most experienced and supportive nursing staff. The leadership provides an environment where everyone works to make our patients feel cared about on a daily basis. The growth in the department has been phenomenal.

Why is the ASPIRE Program critical in the Metro area? 

For those who don’t know, ASPIRE stands for Active Support for Patients with Psychosis in Recovery. I feel privileged to work with a group with grand visions to add and expand services for patients with many challenging issues. Their passion and dedication to overcome all obstacles to expand and create new services to meet the ever-increasing demand for mental health services for our community is inspiring. 

What are some of your hobbies? 

I am an active person. I love spending time with my wife, Carol, of 39 years; my sons, Ben and Jer; my daughters, Bri and Lyss; and my two sons-in-law, Sam and Preston. I’m involved in BBBS (Big Brothers Big Sisters) with my little Caleb, 10, for the last two years. I am a Deacon on several committees and lead two men’s study groups at Westside Church. My two sons and I went to Colorado and rode a ski bike down a mountain. My next bucket list item is to go to Utah and drive a dune buggy in the desert. I have played a mean Roman soldier in the Westside Christmas Pageant for five years. Two years ago, I was an 8-foot inflatable shark—what a blast. We missed last year due to Covid-19, but I hope to be back this year. I enjoy reading sci-fi, and, of course, my favorite hobby is anything with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. My wife says I will watch anything Huskers. She is right. I even watched the Nebraska Women’s bowling team win a National Championship. #GBR

Psychiatry Department provides support for important research project

UNMC Department of Psychiatry Research Director Soonjo Hwang’s expertise in neuroimagine has made him a sought-after partner for other departments and institutions.  His work in the default mode network came to the attention of UNMC Associate Professor and Director of Inpatient Palliative Medicine at the Omaha VA, Lou Lukas, MD, in 2020 and a collaboration was born.   

Dr. Lukas is leading a study using a psychedelic agent for the alleviation of distress in adults with pancreatobiliary cancers, and is joined by UNMC Internal Medicine Assistant Professor and Buffett Cancer Center oncologist Kelsey Klute, MD, University of Nebraska Lincoln Professor Jody Kellas, PhD, and Hwang, MD, in the project.  The oncology and palliative care teams have experience with patients with cancers of the pancreas and gallbladder, which have particularly poor prognoses and are associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety than other cancers. 

“The project is important because people with cancer often have significant emotional and psychological distress that is challenging to treat with current protocols,” says Dr. Lukas.  “New work with psychedelic agents combined with supportive counseling shows promise for helping people suffering from the distress of cancer, depression, and addictive disorders.”  

Lukas brings unique and extensive experience to the project. Prior to her return to Omaha, she worked with the group at John Hopkins who pioneered the resurgence of research in psychedelics. Dr. Lukas has since founded the Heartland Palliadelic Research Group which is interested in exploring these modalities.

“We reached out to Dr. Hwang to collaborate with the neuroimaging section of the trial and have since found several people in the department who are quite interested in this growing field of medicine,” Lukas says.  Ji-woo Suk, PhD, post-doctoral researcher, is sharing her expertise in fMRI with the study team, and Brigette Vaughan, MSN, APRN, Lead Research Coordinator, is participating in the palliadelic guide training which includes providers from UNMC, the VA, and the community, and also provides some psychiatry guidance as they prepare for regulatory submission. 

“The combination of plant medicine and a guided therapeutic element is a novel approach to the alleviation of distress,” Vaughan said. 

“We’re also studying how the families of people who try this treatment communicate and cope with the illness, and how patients make decisions and utilize anti-cancer treatment,” Dr. Lukas adds. “There is hope that we are able to offer a fast-acting treatment that helps [patients] relieve some of their distress and live more fully for whatever time they have available.”