ASCO CEO Reflects on His First Year in Office and What Is Ahead

A Conversation With Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO


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Cancer knows no geographic boundaries, and ASCO is a global organization with both a responsibility to educate people from around the world and also to learn from them. It is a two-way street.
— Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO

June 27, 2017, marks the 1-year anniversary since Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO, began his tenure as Chief Executive Officer of ASCO. With the launch of the national Cancer Moonshot and the changes in the White House and Congress, it has been a year of tremendous activity drawing on all of ASCO’s departmental resources. ASCO’s recently launched Clinical Affairs Department has expanded its offerings to support oncology practices as the economic and health-care environments rapidly evolve, and the Society’s policy and advocacy efforts have had to address new issues at an accelerated pace.

ASCO’s work is built on evidence, and publishing is how this information is shared. This year, ASCO expanded its offerings by launching new journals focused on more specific areas of science and advances important to the field. One is JCO Precision Oncology, which publishes original research, reports, opinions, and reviews to advance the science and practice of precision oncology and defines genomics-driven clinical care of patients with cancer. Another is JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics, an online interdisciplinary journal that publishes clinically relevant research based on biomedical informatics methods and processes applied to cancer-related data and information.

Over the past year, ASCO also created two new “Centers” within the Society: The Center for Research and Analytics (CENTRA) and the Center for Integrity and Law (CEIL). Each brings enhanced focus and capacity, supporting data stewardship, analytics, ethics, integrity, and governance in their respective areas.

At the same time, CancerLinQ—ASCO’s big data initiative to improve care for patients with cancer—saw continued growth, with the number of participating oncology practices increasing to 80 nationwide and more than 1.7 million patient medical records. This past fall, ASCO launched CancerLinQ Discovery, which provides highly curated, de-identified sets of clinical data to users with the ultimate objective of helping oncologists and researchers learn from more patients to improve outcomes.

Over the past year, CancerLinQ launched several programs and partnerships, including the CancerLinQ Ambassadors Program, a collaboration with the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), in which nurses with expertise in quality improvement, informatics, and technology provide support to oncologists, oncology nurses, and their staff as they integrate CancerLinQ into their workflow; and a partnership with the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association (HOPA) to promote quality cancer care by engaging pharmacist participation in CancerLinQ.

All of ASCO’s initiatives, said Dr. Hudis, are meant to solidify and enhance ASCO’s mission to conquer cancer through research, education, and the delivery of high-quality, high-value patient care.

Long-Term Association With ASCO

Dr. Hudis’ role as Chief Executive Officer follows nearly 3 decades of involvement with ASCO as a member and volunteer. Most recently, he served as President (2013–2014) and has held several other leadership positions. He served on the CancerLinQ Board of Governors and is now its Chair, and he also serves as CEO of ASCO’s Conquer Cancer Foundation.

Our longstanding goal has been to help both legislators and the general public understand the value of research and the return on the investment in both health and economic terms.
— Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO

Prior to joining ASCO as Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Hudis was Chief of the Breast Medicine Service, Vice President for Government Relations, and Chief Advocacy Officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

In a wide-ranging interview with The ASCO Post, Dr. Hudis reflects on his first year as ASCO CEO and his expectations for progress in the year ahead.

Expectations and Surprises

How would you describe your first year as CEO of ASCO, and has the experience met your expectations or presented you with unexpected surprises?

The job of Chief Executive Officer is very much what I was expecting when I accepted the position. I was, of course, broadly exposed to ASCO as a volunteer and leader in various roles up to becoming President of the Society, so I was familiar with our mission and goals. I had also spent a fair bit of time over many years talking with my predecessor, Allen S. Lichter, MD, FASCO, and learning about ASCO. His insights, along with those of so many other staff members and volunteers across the organization, enabled me to come into this role with my eyes wide open, and I have, therefore, not faced any major internal surprises. Of course, the outside world is always presenting new challenges and opportunities, so every day offers some sort of unexpected adventure.

All members should understand with their support, ASCO is robust and prepared to help them deal with expected—and even unexpected—changes in science, education, and clinical care now and in the years ahead.
— Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO

It helps that the ASCO staff is incredibly talented, dedicated, wise, and experienced, and I have come to rely on their counsel extensively. This is a mission-driven organization, and the staff is focused on that mission every day in everything we do, making for a very exciting and rewarding work environment.

If there were any surprises for me they might be in the specific ways my time is spent. I knew what my day-to-day responsibilities would be and what the rhythm of the work week might be, and for the most part those expectations have been met. But the most unexpected part is how much time I spend on strategy as it informs our policy and advocacy activities.

Given the challenges of our health-care system and the evolving role of government, perhaps this should not be a surprise, but it is one of several key channels through which our hopes and aspirations as a Society are manifested. That said, everything I touch at ASCO is interesting and rewarding to me because of the short distance from our work at headquarters to the service we seek to provide to our members.

Changing Responsibilities

Do you miss your clinical practice?

I love taking care of patients and learning from them and their families. I also think it is critically important for ASCO leaders to have some practical and current real-world clinical experience if possible. I am very fortunate my area of cancer medicine includes a large number of patients who are relatively well after treatment and are now being observed with no active therapy or perhaps only long-term adjuvant endocrine therapy. This allows me the opportunity to maintain a modest clinical practice at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as an unpaid volunteer on some Friday afternoons.

Even my limited clinical responsibilities help me stay current in using electronic medical records, placing orders, and understanding some of the evolving challenges that all clinicians face with billing and coding. I also hear from my patients as they interact with and navigate our health-care system. I hope this allows me—and ASCO—to be even more effective in advocating in support of our members’ needs as they seek to deliver high-quality care.

Calculating Progress

As you were preparing for your new role as CEO of ASCO, you said your biggest priorities were to continue to extend ASCO’s influence in the delivery of ever-improving patient care and to advocate for an environment that makes it possible for patients to get the best cancer care both in the United States and around the world. What progress have you made in achieving those goals?

Clifford Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO, and other ASCO Leaders at the 2016 ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago. Pictured from left to right: Dr. Hudis; back row, Daniel F. Hayes, MD, FACP, FASCO; Allen S. Lichter, MD, FASCO; front row, Julie Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO, Peter Paul Yu, MD, FASCO, Bruce E. Johnson, MD, FASCO. Photo © ASCO/Todd Buchanan.

It’s a little difficult when you are in the middle of trying to fulfill your goals to calculate progress, but I’ll name a few areas where I think we can see some successes. First, the ASCO staff has been very active on Capitol Hill, both with the prior administration and Congress and the new ones, to help everyone understand the importance of supporting high-quality clinical care, the benefits of supporting research that will better define care for tomorrow, and the need for a healthy and robust oncology practice environment. Some of the challenges have been unexpected, but I’ve been very pleased with our ability to gain access to lawmakers and respectfully educate and communicate our positions.

A second area of success is in our core function of education. Our Education, Science, and Professional Development Department, led by Jamie Von Roenn, MD, FASCO (Vice President owf Education, Science, and Professional Development), has embarked on a unique examination of our full suite of educational offerings and engagements with the aim of truly modernizing this aspect of our service to members. I anticipate exciting and engaging new products that will ease the lifelong learning we all engage in as physicians.

Facing New Challenges

Are you concerned about how the Presidential Executive Order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries might impact cancer research and care for patients in the United States and how it might affect ASCO’s international members seeking to enter the country?

ASCO issued a statement on the ban, which called on national leaders to eliminate unjustified barriers to scientific exchange and medical education. (See “ASCO Statement on the U.S. Presidential Executive Order on Entry Into the United States” available at https://connection.asco.org/magazine/society-member-news/asco-statement-us-presidential-executive-order-entry-united-states.)

I am not declaring any expertise on national safety and terrorism, which are the stated primary elements of the law, so I will confine my comments to its potential impact on health care for Americans, on training and education for our global community, and on our scientific progress. In these regards, the law poses real challenges.

First, many oncology trainees and practicing oncologists in the United States, especially those practicing in underserved areas, come from countries affected by the travel ban. In many cases, they are ASCO members. Second, cancer knows no geographic boundaries, and ASCO is a global organization with a responsibility to educate people from around the world and to learn from them. It is a two-way street.

Even in this modern era of technology, where we have the ability to webcast meetings to people all over the world, ASCO meetings—especially the Annual Meeting—continue to attract large numbers of attendees. About half are usually from outside of the United States. People like to be physically together, and being together leads to chance encounters and enriching experiences that otherwise would not happen. So, we don’t want barriers to attendance at our meetings.

We are optimistic that the travel ban will not have a significant impact on our members. If it is deployed, it will definitely limit some from entering the United States. For those members, we will do the best we can to mitigate the challenges while making sure everyone in government and beyond understands the potential impact of the ban.

Guidance on Oncology Care

What issues pose the greatest threat to continued progress in cancer care, and what is ASCO doing to mitigate those threats?

This is a timely question! In March, we issued our annual State of Cancer Care in America report, in which we outlined both the advances in cancer care that have led to reduced rates of cancer incidence and mortality and the key barriers we see to achieving accessible, affordable health care for all Americans.

As I mentioned previously, ASCO has been very active on Capitol Hill, educating Congress on the importance of funding research and ensuring access to affordable health care. Although our efforts may not yield rewards overnight, we believe they will in time. We pride ourselves on providing evidence-based, scientifically sound guidance on these issues to arm Congress, our membership, and society as a whole with what they need to make informed decisions regarding oncology care.

Developing CancerLinQ

A lot of progress has been made in the development of CancerLinQ, including the launch of new initiatives like the CancerLinQ Ambassadors Program. Please talk about the new program and how it will facilitate use of CancerLinQ in oncology practices.

We continue to develop CancerLinQ as fast as we can. Our main goal is to provide services to participating members that will enable them to improve patient care and outcomes. That’s our priority. We are not yet delivering fully on that vision, but we will.

Our partnership with ONS is an important one. It will provide local support to ensure the data are utilized correctly to benefit patients. It will also provide person-to-person feedback on the needs of members as they start to use CancerLinQ. We are delighted to have the support of ONS for CancerLinQ. It illustrates both the fact that it takes a team to implement this type of big data learning system and that cancer care is multidisciplinary.

ASCO’s Service to Members

What progress do you expect to see over the next year in existing and new ASCO initiatives?

I’m always hesitant to say what progress I’d like to see in the future, because it’s difficult to predict how successful your plans will be and what intervening events might happen to alter those plans. We will definitely see further maturation of CancerLinQ, which is clearly a high priority for us. We are going to see significant growth in our Clinical Affairs Department offerings and will continue to see the development of tools to support oncology practices as they transition to quality payment programs under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). The key is that all members should understand with their support, ASCO is robust and prepared to help them deal with expected—and even unexpected—changes in science, education, and clinical care now and in the years ahead.

I want ASCO members to know that we need their involvement and support. During his Presidential Address at the Annual Meeting in Chicago, Daniel F. Hayes, MD, FACP, FASCO, will address some of these issues and describe how members can engage with ASCO through a new program called Volunteer Corp. The idea for the program is to give all ASCO members the opportunity to contribute their expertise based on their time schedule and area of specialty. We know that while not all members have the time to devote to a full-time committee role, for example, many would like to volunteer their time in a more limited way intermittently. Volunteer Corp gives members that opportunity.

We now have over 42,000 members worldwide. Our members have the expertise and knowledge to make ASCO even stronger and increase its ability to serve members more effectively to fulfill our mission to conquer cancer through research, education, and high-quality patient care.

The Society is working hard every day to achieve that goal, but I want to hear members’ ideas on how we can make ASCO an even stronger organization that addresses their needs and concerns. So I invite them to e-mail their comments to me at clifford.hudis@asco.org. I look forward to hearing from everyone! ■

Disclosure: Dr. Hudis is Chief Executive Officer of ASCO.



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