May 31, 2014
At the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) here in Chicago, something vitally important is happening: there is an increasing recognition of something no one really wanted to talk about in polite company until now. It is the fact that the costs of many of the new treatments being developed are extraordinary.
The headlines about cost and value of cancer care greeted me when I walked into the McCormick Center in Chicago for the opening sessions of the meeting. This is the leading cancer meeting in the world, and what happens here makes news worldwide, significantly impacting the lives of patients with cancer wherever they may be.
Now there is an increasing recognition of the elephant in the room: the costs of these new treatments are extraordinary. No matter how one chooses to slice and dice the arguments, these drugs are expensive with costs per month of $8000 and upwards getting a lot of attention and increasing concerns, especially at this meeting. More...
May 16, 2014
This was the dream: we would use technology to create a seamless healthcare system, one where people, computers and machines would work together to improve patient care in many different ways. Health care would be more efficient, it would be safer, it would be less expensive, we would be able to transfer health-related information quickly and accurately.
After spending three days at a meeting this past week with some of the top experts in the field, I am not so certain that the dream is going to come true anytime soon. Perhaps more concerning, the problems--including patient safety issues--that are cropping up in so many areas are very troubling. More...
May 11, 2014
My wife and I did something special this past Friday evening. We attended a Relay for Life in our hometown of Thomasville GA. And the memories of the event will not be soon forgotten, for so many reasons. More...
March 27, 2014
I had the opportunity earlier this week to participate in a Twitter chat on the topic of colorectal cancer awareness. The chat was intended to bring attention to a nationwide campaign called "80 by 2018" designed to increase colorectal cancer screening rates to 80% of the population over the next 4 years. If it is successful, we should see a decline in both incidence and deaths from this disease.
But I am haunted by two of the comments I tweeted during the session chat that won't leave my conscience:
"As a doc, you don't forget the patients you couldn't help. And you celebrate those you did. #CRCawareness is key #80by2018"
"Let's remember that screening doesn't help everyone, so don't forget the need for more research in understanding #CRC #80by2018"
While we celebrate the opportunity to save more lives with screening, we cannot ignore or forget those for whom screening for colorectal cancer (or other cancers, for that matter) couldn't or didn't make a difference. More...
March 19, 2014
An article published this week in the American Cancer Society journal CA: A Journal for Clinicians received a lot of media attention. The report showed dramatic declines in the rate of people being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, as well as decreases in the rates of colorectal cancer deaths over the past number of years.
But the press didn't say much about the fact that not everyone has benefitted from the progress we have made in the prevention, early detection, and improved treatment for colorectal cancer. It is a sad but very real commentary on how we approach health care in this country that African Americans have not benefitted equally from this progress in treating a cancer that for many people can be prevented or effectively treated when found before it spreads to other parts of the body.
As a nation, I believe it is incumbent that we address this glaring health disparity. To do less is unacceptable. More...
October 18, 2013
I attended a meeting in Washington this past Wednesday that got me to thinking about the fact that as we revolutionize cancer research and treatment, we are also going to have to revolutionize cancer care. And that
may prove to be an even more daunting task than finding new treatments for the disease itself.
The meeting was sponsored by a collaboration called "Turning The Tide Against Cancer". The organizers brought together experts from a variety of disciplines ranging from insurance companies and economists to advocacy groups and highly regarded cancer specialists to discuss policy solutions to support innovation in cancer research and care. Walking in, I anticipated this was going to be another one of those sessions where we talked about funding for research, bringing research into clinical trials, and having patients get access to new drugs. But I was wrong. The discussions quickly steered into a different direction: what do we need to do to make the cancer care system work for patients?
Of course there were the continuing themes of "big data" and the impact of genomics on drug development and patient care, but a surprising amount of the discussion centered around new payment models, quality of care, and fundamental redesign of medical care to become more patient centric. And although we talked a lot about data gathering and analysis, what stuck with me was the redesign piece. I thought the discussion around redesign would focus on personalized medicine, but we spent a lot of time on changing the fundamental structure of cancer care and payment.
How are those two linked? Did we miss our focus?
The answer? If we don't change the way the system is working, we won't realize the promise of personalized medicine. Seems pretty simple and straight forward until you start thinking about the implications. More...
August 09, 2013
A newspaper story last week caught my eye when it headlined: "Senators Revive Push for End-of-Life-Care Planning." It reported on new legislation making the rounds in Washington to address care planning for those with advanced illnesses.
You remember "end of life care planning," don't you? It was part of the Affordable Care Act debate several years ago, and quickly became translated into "death panels" where opponents made the argument that the government wanted to help people decide not to receive needed treatment. That was a moment that will live in my memory forever, and it's not a pleasant memory.
So here we are with this new bill, and a headline that suggests we may be headed down the same path once again. This time, however, I hope we can have a more rational and appropriate discussion about an issue that is rapidly evolving in cancer care, supported by medical evidence and medical professionals, not to mention organizations like the American Cancer Society who believe the time has come to engage our patients, their families and caregivers, and the nation at large in understanding the need for compassion as we care for patients with serious illness, including cancer. More...
August 06, 2013
There was a memorable scene in the movie "The Graduate" from 1967. You may know it or have heard of it, when the older man turns to the college graduate and says the future is all about one word: "plastics."
Well, plastics may have been then, but this is now. And the core themes I keep hearing these days there are two central ones that our becoming our new "plastics" in medicine: genomics and big data. Words that didn't mean much to most people a year or so ago now occupy front and center discussions at every level, not to mention are the topics of a number of meetings I have attended recently.
This past week I went to one of those meetings (sponsored by e Health Initiative) where over 450 people spent two days hearing from experts about the meaning, uses, and precautions that come along with "big data" in medical care. (Interestingly, there were also several presentations on the intersection of genomics and big data. So the two are definitely not mutually exclusive.)
Not that medicine is unique: big data is transforming much of the way we live and the way we experience life. What is different about medical care is that we are so far behind everyone else when it comes to adopting and effectively using information technology and data analysis to improve healthcare. But that is quickly changing. The power of technology is just beginning to impact health care as hospitals and doctors' offices increasingly adopt (and adapt to) health information technology, but it takes lots of resources and commitment--both human and financial--to make that happen. More...
June 07, 2013
It is a disarmingly simple idea: create a blue button logo with a download moniker on it and let it loose so people can actually download, review, and keep their own medical records. But simple on the surface masks complexity below a revolutionary concept: that patients are not only the subject of the records, but that they own those records, and through that ownership can actually be partners in their care or even improve their own health.
That was the topic of a meeting I attended yesterday at the White House, where representatives of government, health technology vendors, consumer groups, and others interested in advancing the role and usefulness of health information technology came together to give updates on the progress of the "Blue Button" program, review the current state of affairs, and pledge to advance the concept going forward. And I was honored to be invited to join this knowledgeable and committed group on behalf of the American Cancer Society.
When you think about it, patients with cancer and other serious illnesses should be clamoring for this to become the routine and not the exception. As I have written before, it is difficult enough to hear that you have cancer and are going to need complicated treatment. But that is just the beginning of what can be a very tortuous journey for patients and their caregivers through the cancer treatment maze. Complex diagnoses, loads of records, and no way to have the health information communicated easily from one place to another is just one more way that the quality of life of cancer patients is impacted by their illness.
Why do we tolerate this? I don't know, that's for sure. As patients we should be our own advocates. We should be expecting--no, demanding--a more transparent and efficient system of care. And getting our information in our hands is just one way to make that happen. The people in that room yesterday are committed to the concept that you own your medical information and should have access to it,, and that we are obligated to make to find a simple and straight forward way to get your medical information to you and to anyone you choose to share it with, whether that be a doctor, a family member, or a company or organization you want to help you organize and understand that information. More...
June 03, 2013
As we walk the halls and sit in the lectures at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, there's an elephant in the room. It is right there in front of us, but not many of us seem willing to talk about it. Fewer still are making any commitments to do something about it.
So what is this ubiquitous juxtaposition that is right in front of us but we can't seem to see?
It is the contrast between incredibly sophisticated science and computer data that will help us understand cancer and its treatment vs. the reality that we can't have medical records that really work. It is the fact that we have million dollar machines to treat cancer but we have tens of thousands of lives lost to cervical cancer in underdeveloped and underserved countries that could be saved with saved using vinegar. It is cancer care's version of the "guns vs. butter" debate of the 1960s. More...