Dr. Kashif Latif
Doctors have a variety of ways of finding their life's calling. For Kashif Latif, it was simply a matter of a disease hitting too close to home.
The Pakistani native arrived in the U.S. as a young student, intent on becoming a doctor. “Since my parents paid for my education, we had to succeed.
There was no option,” he explained with a smile. After attending Aga Khan University Medical College in Pakistan, Latif practiced internal medicine in Dyersburg, but when his then girlfriend, Shazia Hussain, received a fellowship to train at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center, Latif followed suit. He came to Memphis in 1992 and completed a fellowship in internal medicine at the University of Tennessee. He and Hussain, a pediatrician with Pediatrics East, were married in 1997.
Latif practiced internal medicine until his son, Ahmed, was born. But at 11 months, the couple received a surprising diagnosis: Their child had juvenile diabetes. Learning how to monitor and live with this chronic disease illuminated a path for Latif.
“I learned a lot that I didn't appreciate before my son got diabetes,” he said. “Going through it day-to-day, having the disease under my roof made me realize that there's so much more than writing down a number and making a prescription.”
Soon, he returned to school to obtain a specialty in endocrinology and upon completing his training, opened AM Diabetes and Endocrinology Center in 2002. The center is named in honor of his son.
His son's diabetes made Latif aware of how important education is for patients, who are sometimes required to make significant lifestyle changes in order to manage their disease more effectively. His emphasis for the center is “to bring quality, comprehensive care for people with diabetes. The cornerstone for managing diabetes is education, so we've invested lots of resources into establishing a quality education center.”
It couldn't be in a better location. Because of the prevalence of obesity, poor eating habits, and a lack of exercise found across the Mid-South, diabetes is higher here than many other regions nationally.
To address the problem head-on, Latif has built a staff of healthcare providers, including dieticians, physicians, and even a psychologist who help patients monitor the many complications that can arise with diabetes. They provide eye exams, cardiovascular check-ups, kidney function tests, blood work that monitors cholesterol and hemoglobin levels, and neurological checks. Latif's goal is to create a one-stop shop for diabetes treatment, not just for the patients he sees, but for those being referred by other physicians as well.
Latif's center has received certification from the American Diabetes Association, a rigorous process which requires clinics to closely document patient care. What Latif has discovered is that educating patients on diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes has enabled many of them to manage their diabetes with minimal medication. “For last three years we've had a positive impact for blood glucose control for those who attend the sessions,” he said. Yet despite that good news, insurance companies often don't want to reimburse for education.
And educating patients isn't easy, notes Latif. “There's push back from patients. When you use the word education, they say ‘We know what to eat. We know what to do.’” It can be a real problem. “But I tell patients, your diabetes is here and it's here to stay. The only way to make it go away is to turn back the hands of time.”
The education sessions patients receive takes eight hours, plus one follow-up three months later. Latif recommends most of his patients see an educator once a year, but does suggest some patients see his staff weekly “because they need to understand the disease process and how to control its impact.” Since diabetes is a long-term, chronic illness, patients must learn how to monitor their blood glucose levels and manage their diets to prevent serious complications.
To help patients with blood monitoring, Latif is using the latest in diabetes treatment technology: Professional Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) therapy management and software. Latif's is also one of five clinics nationally, that, in addition to working with patients using CGM are also providing physician training in the use of the device.
As for life at home with a diabetic, Latif is quick to point out that his son receives no preferential treatment because of his illness. He routinely tells his son that diabetes is his test, and how well he does with it will be his report card. “He is still expected to perform in school and sports. There’s no specialty in our house, he doesn't get any privileges.” But what he does get is the excellent care of a father determined to make a difference in diabetes treatment.