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Kathrin Nicolacakis: The Clinician’s Clinician

September 2014
Kathrin Nicolacakis, MD

Kathrin Nicolacakis, MD

Even as a teenager, Kathrin “Katina” Nicolacakis, MD, was hungry for a challenge. As a summer volunteer at the Akron Children’s Hospital in her hometown of Akron, Ohio, she was briefed on her responsibilities, which were primarily to deliver flowers and toys as well as direct visitors to patient rooms. But these tasks didn’t sit well with her.

“I said, ‘That’s boring—I need something meatier,’” Dr. Nicolacakis recalls during an interview from her office at the Cleveland Clinic’s Main Campus in Cleveland, Ohio, where she is an assistant professor of medicine in the Respiratory Institute. “They said, ‘Well, you could work in the burn unit, feed the kids, and do whatever the nurses need help with.’ I was able to see different roles—what nurses do, what doctors do—and I started thinking that perhaps I could do something like that.”

Today, Dr. Nicolacakis has focused her efforts on training her colleagues and fellows in proper medical coding and billing procedures, and she advocates for fair reimbursement—a challenge that is felt by physicians across the U.S.

“In the climate that we are in, that clinical revenue is increasingly important,” says Dr. Nicolacakis, an ATS member since 1992. “It is critical in supporting all the missions of every academic institution—the research and teaching missions as well as the clinical programs. I also feel that we need to do a better job of teaching our fellows and trainees about the ‘business’ aspect of medicine so that they are well equipped for the rapidly changing medical climate they are entering.”

As chair of the ATS Clinical Practice Committee, she helps the Society monitor payment, billing, and regulatory matters that affect the clinical practice of pulmonary, sleep and critical care medicine in the U.S. She also serves as the alternate ATS advisor to the American Medical Association/Specialty Society Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), an expert panel that develops recommendations for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“Katina has a unique gift in being able to translate the technicalities of coding and billing to pure logic and rational thinking,” says Sumita Khatri, MD, of the Respiratory Institute at Cleveland Clinic. “In a system where we physicians often feel victimized, she believes in and effectively supports the spirit of the cause instead of being mired by minutia. We are fortunate to have such an advocate for us who is familiar with a busy practice, large health systems, and the cause of educating our future health care providers.”

In addition to teaching medicine’s business side, Dr. Nicolacakis prepares students, residents, and pulmonary fellows for clinical practice, and her clinical responsibilities are primarily in outpatient pulmonary medicine. She spends two months a year on hospital service, seeing about 20 patients a day, and otherwise, three to four days a week in the office. In addition, she is very involved in the department’s efforts in improving COPD care both in and out of the hospital.

“She’s been a tremendous resource for Cleveland Clinic for optimizing professional reimbursement to make sure that it’s being done appropriately, and she’s an outstanding pulmonary doctor,” says Serpil C. Erzurum, MD, chair of the Department of Pathobiology at Cleveland Clinic and deputy editor of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. “She’s an expert across the spectrum—I do not know too many people who know about reimbursement, inpatient, outpatient, and acute care. And she has a positive energy about her.”

Dr. Nicolacakis earned her medical degree at Ohio State University, College of Medicine, in Columbus, and completed her internship and residencies there at the University Hospital. She then completed her fellowship in pulmonary and critical care at Case Western University School of Medicine, University Hospitals of Cleveland. She subsequently spent 15 years practicing pulmonary and critical care, first in private practice, and then at MetroHealth Medical Center. Since then, she has been at Cleveland Clinic.

In a system where we physicians often feel victimized, she believes in and effectively supports the spirit of the cause instead of being mired by minutia.—Sumita Khatri, MD

She also is committed to raising her two children—now 14 and 17—spending time with her husband, and cooking traditional Greek dishes from the isle of Crete where she still has family. “My goal is to eat like my great-grandmothers did,” she says.

And keeping in family tradition, her teenage daughter spent time volunteering at a hospital over the summer. “She may be interested in medicine but I’m trying to keep a low profile and not be pushy,” Dr. Nicolacakis says with a laugh.

For the clinician’s clinician, this may be another challenge altogether.

Life in ATS Life in ATS

  • ATS Member Since: 1992
  • ATS Clinical Practice Committee Chair 2014-15
  • Primary Assembly: Clinical Problems
  • Secondary Assembly: Allergy, Immunology, and Inflammation

“The ATS has always been the place to go for the best science in our specialty.”

Last Reviewed: September 2017