By Laura A. Dawson, MD, FASTRO, ASTRO President
Not only am I embracing change, but I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone as I write my first blog post about ASTRO 2021, our Annual Meeting. I was so pleased to announce on July 8 that registration and housing have opened. We’re back in person in Chicago, and I can’t wait to see you there, as we start to step out of our “COVID hibernation.” If you’re unable to travel to the meeting, we’ve added a virtual option called Digital XP. And we’re also offering risk-free registration through September 30, so you can take advantage of early-bird registration rates (see registration fees and policies on the meeting website for more information). I encourage you to learn more about the meeting and make plans to participate!
Today, I’m excited to share my personal thoughts with you about the Annual Meeting and the meeting themes of “person-centered care” and “embracing change.” I will start with person-centered care, which focuses on the whole person as a unique individual, beyond their cancer diagnosis. Patients are someone’s child, friend, partner and/or parent. A person’s work and hobbies are often disrupted by a cancer diagnosis and treatment, and we are in a unique position to care for and support people during some of the most challenging times of their lives. Placing an individual at the center of their care, partnering with them and personalizing treatment based on a more holistic approach that incorporates various dimensions to well‐being, including a person's individual preferences and beliefs, is “person- centered.” This approach acknowledges physical and financial barriers to care and other determinants of health. It should lead to more compassionate care and trusting relationships with patients and their families and ultimately, can help to improve health care system efficiency and effectiveness for the whole community.
A special person-centered session at this year’s meeting will be The Science of Hope: Why and How to Approach the Most Difficult Situations in Oncology. It’s sure to be inspiring. Hope is important to patients; it’s appropriate, necessary and a critical component of quality care. In this session, we’ll cover why hope matters, the psychoneuroimmunologic basis of hope and finally, how to cultivate and sustain hope in clinical practice and in clinical trials.
No matter what scientific innovation is being discussed at the meeting, it should come back to a person-centered approach. Let’s aim high — for clinically important improvements in outcomes and experiences that matter to patients and their families. We also need to look after ourselves and have empathy for each other, as we have had different degrees of loss and burnout, especially during the past year and a half. Creating a more supportive, nimble work environment may allow us to be more accessible to patients, which should in turn improve the patient experience and outcomes, as well as caregiver satisfaction and wellness.
The second theme is embracing change. I picked this topic because I’d like to see us be more open to new ideas and different ways of thinking to help shape the future of radiation oncology. Let’s prioritize strategies to improve diversity in our field, which will help to improve person-centered care. Be open minded when someone suggests an idea that conflicts with your own inherent biases and thoughts. Let’s think of new ways to more efficiently demonstrate the benefits of radiation therapy innovations and applications, for example, with novel pragmatic trial design and/or new ways of producing evidence.
As we think about change and the profession, we can also think about new roles and new team members. Radiation oncology is a team involving physicists, radiation therapists, engineers, other oncologists, nurses, social workers, dieticians and other health care professionals. Radiation oncologists never work in isolation. As we implement new technologies and artificial intelligence (AI), all our roles will continue to evolve, and we must continue to advocate for clinically important advances. Who should be part of the team to ensure that such change occurs in an equitable manner, reducing disparities in access to treatment and cancer outcomes?
Computer scientists who are experts in machine learning and AI are playing an increasingly important role in radiation oncology, making them an obvious new team member to radiation oncology departments. One of our Keynote speakers, Dr. Fei-Fei Li, an expert in AI and computer vision, will share her views on the future of AI in health care as part of the Digital XP program (also available to all full conference registrants).
We also can learn from human factors engineers, implementation scientists, behavioral scientists and economists. I’m excited about Dr. Dan Ariely’s Keynote that will address why people do the things they do, which is a consideration in how to provide the best care for patients, how to successfully implement innovations and how to advocate for our specialty. His book, “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions,” focuses on the behavioral research behind decision making. I expect to gain some great insights into behavior during this address.
Dr. Wendy Dean, a social scientist, will talk about the structure of medicine and how some structural changes have led to burnout and languishing during her Keynote address. We don’t usually have a social scientist on the stage, so this will be a treat. There’s so much that they and other scientists have to offer to the field. Let’s learn from them about how to improve person-centered care. Learn more about the three Keynote speakers.
I’ve provided some background and an overview of select sessions we have planned for ASTRO 2021. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about what you have to look forward to this year. In my next blog post, I will share more information about the Presidential Symposium. If there are other topics you’d like to learn more about, I invite you to drop me a note or even better, talk to me in person in Chicago!
Registration is open with many options to attend “your way!”