ASCO CEO Discusses the Society’s Initiatives

A Conversation with Allen S. Lichter, MD

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It is incumbent on ASCO to make sure that we remain totally engaged, not only in furthering our commitment to advancing cancer research and quality cancer care, but also in efforts to support high-quality care that’s affordable to our patients, as we continue to address the rising costs of care.

— Allen S. Lichter, MD

Created in 1964,a the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has become the world’s preeminent professional cancer organization, with more than 30,000 members in the United States and abroad, unified by its founders’ “common concern for the patient with cancer.” The ASCO Post recently spoke with ASCO CEO Allen S. Lichter, MD, about what lies ahead as the Society approaches its 50th anniversary in 2014.

Aggressive Agenda

Is ASCO well positioned to maintain its aggressive agenda in these challenging economic times?

The short answer is yes. Our membership is still growing, and our meetings continue to be successful and well attended. Moreover, our list of journals and publications operate at a very high level. So our combined revenue streams help support the infrastructure of ASCO and its many robust programs.

Having said that, because many of the programs I mentioned are mature, the rate of growth begins to slow, as does any product or service that is long-lived. We are a great organization made up of terrific volunteers and executive leaders who have more ideas than the resources to carry them out. Consequently, we spend a lot of time managing our precious resources and exploring interesting new ways to bring revenue into ASCO, so that we can initiate more innovative programs and services for the oncology community. It’s challenging, but the future is bright

Maturation of QOPI®

Please give the readers an update on the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI®).

QOPI is nearing its 12th operational year, and has been open to the full membership for 6-plus years now. The certification program for outpatient oncology practices has been operating for about 2 years; approximately 150 practices have been certified so far, with more coming down the pike.

So the general maturation of QOPI has thus far been successful, and we have numerous ambitious plans on the drawing board for the program’s future. For instance, one of QOPI’s drawbacks is that it is a manual chart abstraction, which makes the entry process laborious. We are embarking on an exciting new project that will evolve QOPI into a fully electronic program that would facilitate a seamless health information technology process. This would really cut down on labor, one of the main barriers to participation.

We have a pilot program set for next year that will migrate QOPI from a manual paper program to an electronic-based system. The ultimate step is to turn QOPI into a learning health-care model in which we are not only collecting data on process measurements—what the program currently does—but obtaining information about what happens when certain clinical procedures are done. We can then begin to correlate the processes with the outcomes, which will ultimately improve our clinical care. This is an ongoing project that will go through much iteration, but the end result will be worth the effort.

Electronic Medical Records

Is the ASCO Health Information Technology Work Group leading this project?

Yes. All of what I’ve just discussed about QOPI’s electronic future is predicated on the widespread dissemination and interoperability of electronic medical records. ASCO has a vested interest in the health information technology field, and so far we’ve seen a positive response from those practices that have adopted electronic medical records. However, there are still many issues that need to be addressed—one, of course, is standardization. We have dozens and dozens of vendors, each with their own system and proprietary methodology, which creates confusion because it limits the ability of physicians who are caring for the same patient to share and compare data.

Using our breast cancer treatment summary as a model, ASCO is working hard with oncologists and vendors on a data standardization initiative to see if we can define the fields in breast cancer that need to be populated. That type of electronic treatment summary could then be shared among physicians, and we could use the success of the breast project as a stepping-stone and broaden it out to other disease states.

When we survey our members, the lack of interoperability is on top of the complaint list, followed closely by excessive costs and practice interruption. Also, many physicians complain that the use of electronic medical records actually slows the delivery of care and takes attention away from the patient. Our Health Information Technology Work Group will address all of these issues. It is important to note that although we’re experiencing the inevitable growing pains that accompany new technologies, the wrinkles will eventually be smoothed, and the benefits will far outweigh the inconveniences.

Relationship with NCCN

Is there an ongoing working relationship between ASCO and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN)?

First off, NCCN recently brought on a physician CEO, Robert W. Carlson, MD, a long-time and valued ASCO member (see here for an interview with Dr. Carlson). NCCN is in the process of finishing a new strategic plan, and ASCO officers have met with their leadership to discuss possible collaborative efforts.

We are both on the same side of advancing quality cancer care; NCCN adds a terrific contribution to that shared effort with, among other things, their broad and comprehensive practice guidelines. So we look forward to working with NCCN on a number of issues that are still in the planning stage.

Executive Leadership

Tell us about ASCO’s recent appointment of Richard L. Schilsky, MD, as its new Chief Medical Officer.

The ASCO board was very wise in bringing on another physician to an executive leadership role. Seventeen years ago, ASCO recruited its first physician executive, John R. Durant, MD, who recently passed away. Serving as Executive Vice President, Dr. Durant helped centralize the widening array of the Society’s agenda under one administrative roof, a major restructuring achievement.

Since then, we have become a much bigger and more complex organization, with deeper reach and interaction into multiple sectors of the health-care and policy system. So the addition of Dr. Schilsky—a past ASCO President who has leadership experience running cancer centers and clinical trial groups—makes sense in that it enhances our ability to manage a controlled expansion of activities and services. Naturally, I am very excited to have Dr. Schilsky on board.

Closing Thoughts

Any last thought’s on ASCO’s future that you would like to share with the readers?

The world of medicine is a challenging, rapidly evolving environment. It is incumbent on ASCO to make sure that we remain totally engaged, not only in furthering our commitment to advancing cancer research and quality cancer care, but also in efforts to support high-quality care that’s affordable to our patients, as we continue to address the rising costs of care.

The board met in March and created a vision for oncology 20 to 25 years down the road. We are in the process of rolling out that vision so that we as a community can have serious dialogue about the future and make sure we’re steering the ship in the right direction. ■

Disclosure: Dr. Lichter reported no potential conflicts of interest.

aASCO was founded in 1964 by a small group of physcians who aimed to create a society dedicated to issues unique to clinical oncology.