Congratulations to the ASCO staff and leadership for a meaningful, interesting and thought-provoking 2014 Annual Meeting. The theme of value in cancer care was evident throughout the meeting. It is certainly an important issue. Among the focuses of discussion both before and during the meeting , control of growing treatment costs, elimination of diagnostic tests which do not affect treatment decisions and avoidance of treatments without benefit near the end of life have been appropriately highlighted. ASCO’s leadership is very determined to establish ASCO and its members as leaders in measuring and improving quality and value of care as a central element of health care reform. It is difficult to argue with this strategy.
ASCO has another opportunity to lead in the arena of value. As a large professional organization, it can lead other similar groups in evaluating and improving the value of medical specialty groups—specifically the cost and outcome of large annual meetings.
If ASCO is to assume a prominent role in improving the value of cancer care and reforming health care delivery, we and our leadership will need to demonstrate that we not only “talk the talk” but also “walk the walk” as individual physicians and as an organization. With that in mind, I wonder if it is time to evaluate and improve the value of the Annual Meeting. The 2014 meeting attracted over 28,000 cancer professionals. Adding in support staff and pharmaceutical industry personnel, the attendance was probably somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000. Whether we like to admit it or not, the cost of the millions of airplane miles traveled, the hundreds of thousands of meals consumed, the tens of thousands of hotel rooms rented and the thousands of bus and taxi trips to and from the convention center in many cases directly and indirectly contributes to the cost of cancer care. The city of Chicago estimates that spending in the Chicago area associated with the 6-day Radiological Society of North American meeting of 40 to 45 thousand physicians and exhibitor attendees is around $125 million. Our meeting is smaller and shorter but the spending is certainly substantial. Realistically, that local spending represents only a fraction of the total cost of preparation and travel that occurs with any large international medical meeting. Is there a less expensive way to do this which can serve the goals of the meeting and our organization while preserving or improving the effectiveness of the medical education and professional communication?
About 25 years ago, acknowledging that what happens at our Annual Meeting affects the cost of care as well as the perception of the “outside world” about oncologists and our organization, ASCO’s leadership, in partnership with pharmaceutical partners, led a trend in the broader medical community by appropriately limiting the extent of entertainment offered to Annual Meeting attendees. Although it would not be accurate to label our Annual Meeting in 2014 as entertainment, isn’t it appropriate to once again re-evaluate our meeting to see how we might improve its value by looking at both cost and quality outcomes?
ASCO has aggressively adopted new technologies that facilitate remote learning and has provided post-meeting regional Best of ASCO sessions that have great value to attendees. With these types of advances in mind, isn’t it time to look for other ways to meet our educational goals at a lower cost while allowing rededication of some of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in conjunction with the Annual Meeting to efforts that more directly improve the value of the research we conduct and the care we provide?
As part of our professional role, in the current era we all must take the responsibility to evaluate and improve the value of the care we provide. Limiting this effort to the examination of cost and utilization of diagnostic technology, treatments and supportive care ignores some smaller but significant opportunities. ASCO has the opportunity to lead. The Annual Meeting might be a good place to start.