ASCO President's Priorities Aim to Build Bridges to Advance Cancer Care

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Recognizing the need for greater interconnectivity to accelerate cancer care advances, Sandra M. Swain, MD, FACP, current ASCO President and Medical Director of Washington Cancer Institute MedStar Washington Hospital Center, selected “Building Bridges to Conquer Cancer” as her presidential theme. Major priorities of her term include sharing real-time knowledge to improve patient outcomes, ensuring global health equity, and preparing for the future of oncology.

Improving Access to Real-time Decision Support

To promote the exchange of valuable clinical data that is currently tucked away in millions of medical records across the globe, ASCO is creating a rapid learning system called CancerLinQ. This new tool, which is currently in the prototype stage, will connect oncology practices, measure quality and performance, and provide physicians with decision support in real time. According to Dr. Swain, “The goal is to increase quality care and efficiency by connecting practices’ electronic health records (EHRs) and providing easy access to all information.”

CancerLinQ will create a searchable database, composed of information culled from medical records provided by partner physicians. It will yield detailed information about presenting symptoms, molecular profiles, courses of treatment, side effects, outcomes, and more. In doing so, CancerLinQ will better equip clinicians to provide highly personalized cancer care based on the unique characteristics of each patient’s tumor and physiologic make-up. Once outcome information is aggregated, the information will facilitate the development of guidelines to further improve care quality.

Reducing Disparities in Cancer Care

Meanwhile, Dr. Swain has also prioritized programs designed to bridge the gap in health equity among different racial and economic groups in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. “Recognizing its responsibility as the leading clinical oncology organization in the world, ASCO has taken deliberate steps to improve global cancer care through its numerous educational offerings and grants,” says Dr. Swain, adding that she hopes to continue building upon that foundation. Signaling a heightened emphasis on this issue, ASCO recently established the Health Disparities Committee, which was previously a workgroup.

Domestically, ASCO is working to eliminate cancer care disparities through programs designed to attract more minority physicians, promote training that equips clinicians to meet the needs of racially and ethnically diverse patients with cancer, improve data collection on cancer disparities, and ensure access to cancer specialists at all federally qualified community health centers. In addition, ASCO has taken an active role advocating for Medicaid and Medicare policies that increase access to high-quality cancer care and clinical trials, including provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

Globally, ASCO has long tapped into its worldwide network of members to provide clinicians around the world with resources to help them achieve better care for their cancer patients through programs such as international volunteer opportunities, international training sessions and workshops, and international fellowships and awards. Building upon this foundation, ASCO recently launched ASCO International, an ambitious 4-year expansion of new programs, initiatives, and research opportunities. The goal of ASCO International is to increase awareness of global cancer care quality disparities, improve practice, and foster innovation in countries around the world, crossing socioeconomic and geographic boundaries.

Preparing to Address Tomorrow’s Challenges

As a final area of focus, Dr. Swain is calling upon ASCO to prepare for the future of oncology, which holds challenges such as a growing and aging population, increasing numbers of cancer survivors, and slow growth in the supply of oncologists. To address these issues, ASCO is committed to ongoing initiatives that promote collaborative care and innovative practice models, track trends in the oncology workforce, and train the next generation of oncologists to practice in a time of workforce shortage.

Noting the growing number of women in oncology, Swain says, “We need to be creative to find better way to keep them in the workforce.” She adds that the younger generation wants a better lifestyle and that the health care field needs to foster collaborative work environments that allow for work-life balance. ■

© 2013. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.