Five Questions with Babak “Bobby” Hassid, MD, Interventional Cardiologist
We spoke with Babak “Bobby” Hassid, MD, about joining the faculty at Columbia—including his role as the new director of clinical development strategies and clinical outreach and about returning to Columbia, where he was a former member of the faculty.
Can you tell us about yourself and your new role with Columbia?
I'm an interventional cardiologist, and this is actually my second stint with Columbia. After my interventional fellowship at Cornell, I joined the faculty at Columbia in 2011. Then I moved over to Lenox Hill Hospital, but I was re-recruited to come back to Columbia in a directorship role earlier this year. My new role is director of clinical development strategies and clinical outreach.
I am very excited to come back to Columbia. I hope to continue to grow our outreach outside of the New York City area. We get to work with very good physicians, whether they're internists or general cardiologists, and we offer services that often only a major hospital like Columbia/NewYork-Presbyterian can provide. We can go out there in the community and provide these services to the patients, often without them needing to come into Manhattan.
Honestly, the main challenge is manpower; it would be much easier if I could have 10 of myself. It's five days a week and 24 hours a day. We go out in the community to help patients but also to educate and support other physicians.
We focus on working with good physicians who have the right mindset, whether they're privately run or affiliated with Columbia. We want to be able to work with them and offer high-quality services for their patients that they might not be able to provide. Giving their patients access to doctors here at Columbia expands their options because there are many things we do better than anyone.
How can working with Columbia help community doctors?
They can benefit from the experience and expertise that comes from working at one of the world's leading medical centers. For example, one of the leading causes of heart failure is coronary artery disease. In community practices, that's something patients don't always get screened for, or if they do get screened for it, they don't receive adequate treatment. If somebody has a completely blocked coronary artery—called a chronic total occlusion, or CTO—some doctors might try to treat it medically simply because they may not have the skill set or resources to treat that type of highly complex patient.
But Columbia specializes in treating CTOs and other complex cases; we've pioneered the space. So we can often help patients who have been told by their community doctors that there's nothing more that can be done.
There are so many services we provide that can make an impact. General cardiology consultations are very important, as well as interventional consultations. If a patient has symptoms like chest pain, they would have noninvasive testing such as a stress test or a cardiac cat scan; we can help interpret those results.
We're starting to include heart failure specialists as part of our outreach effort. We work with patients who have reduced ejection fraction or diastolic heart failure and need state-of-the-art medications and regimens. It's all about putting a team together based on what the practice needs and what the patients need in that area.
What are some important elements of an effective outreach program?
I've been doing this for about 11 years, so I've seen everything. It often comes down to finding the right fit. We don't want to just go to every practice and take over. We want to work with practices that want to elevate their patient care.
To do that, we want to make sure the physicians we are partnering with adhere to the highest standards. In NYC and the surrounding community, there are so many cardiologists that are great at what they do; they just need a little bit of help. And by providing access to what we do, we can help facilitate that. Make a bridge to the next level of care, right where it's needed. Patients can get Columbia-level care outside of the city without needing to come to the hospital.
And it's not just about medications and procedures: it's about patient education. We're starting to work with dieticians and nutritionists to help educate patients about conditions like diabetes, heart failure, and coronary artery disease.
But it starts with great care that's already in the community that allows us to work together and fill in the gaps.
You have specialized training for stroke. Isn't that unusual for a cardiologist?
I'm probably one of a handful of interventional cardiologists in the country who does this type of procedure for the heart and brain. At my previous hospital, I was approached by the stroke team to see if I was interested in learning a new skill set. At that time, I was very, very busy; my practice was growing, and I didn't really have the bandwidth.
But it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I made time to learn; it took about a year of training. I scrubbed in with them once a week and was on call with them for the whole year. Whatever stroke cases came in, I scrubbed in. I scrubbed in for all their elected cases and their diagnostics. Eventually, I started taking calls by myself.
When a patient comes in with a stroke, there's a stroke neurologist on call. There's a protocol that involves a rapid cat scan. If the results fit the criteria for a thrombectomy—meaning we suck the clot out—that patient can be brought to the cath lab, just like you would with a heart attack. We use a special device and suck the clot out and restore flow into the brain, just like you restore flow back into the heart.
I believe that the next frontier will be interventional cardiologists treating stroke cases because there's a shortage of neurosurgeons and neurovascular specialists around the country. One important reason I came back to Columbia was to have a platform with Dr. Martin Leon and Dr. Jeff Moses, two pioneers in the interventional space. Hopefully, with their help, we can develop a curriculum. We could develop research and establish a method for training fellows and cardiologists already in practice. I think we could have a platform and be on the leading edge to help educate cardiologists across the country and around the world.
What motivates you as a doctor?
I'm the type of person who always wants to push the field forward. And to do that, you need to learn how to focus. Somebody once asked me, "What's your biggest accomplishment in life? Being a doctor? Being a cardiologist?" After my family, I'd actually say winning the MVP of my high school baseball team.
It was pretty unlikely; I was an immigrant, and my dad never played baseball. But I loved the game. I took a liking to it when I was three years old, and I just pushed it from there. Even when I was a kid, I wanted to be captain of my high school baseball team. There's something about competition and being part of a team. It made me want to really push myself and take it to the next level. So during senior year, I made a decision: I wanted to be the most valuable player.
I really wanted it. I had a focus: I want that. And I worked at it, put all my effort into it… and I got it. Looking back, that set the table for so much of my life. I went to college; I was premed. How am I going to do it? I did my internal medicine residency and chose cardiology. How am I going to do it? I want to improve how we help patients. How am I going to do it? And I remember how I approached baseball. Choose a goal and stay with it. It's about having a focus, having a vision. And really learning to not say no to yourself.
And being part of a team means having good people around you. One of the main reasons I came back to Columbia was because of Dr. Moses. He gave me my first job; he was my mentor. He brought me back in, along with Dr. Leon. You can do more with good people around you. And I think we're going to do great work.