Access to Care: Burris Says United With Our Patients, We Accelerate Progress Together

July 20, 2020

“We’ve had advancements, but we need to go faster,” said ASCO President Howard A. "Skip" Burris III, MD, as he stressed the importance of advancing therapies for better patient outcomes by addressing obstacles to patients’ care. “Access to care, access to clinical trials, and access to information are really key.”

Virtual for the first time ever, the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) kicked off its sessions with an address from outgoing president Howard A. “Skip” Burris III, MD, who will next assume the position of chair of ASCO’s Board of Directors.

“Our patients are the reasons we do what we do. They are the reason we do the work. It’s been a joy for me to have such a diverse job,” said Burris, who is also president of clinical operations, chief medical offi cer, and executive director of drug development at Sarah Cannon Research Institute. Additionally, he is a member of the board of directors of’Conquer Cancer: The ASCO Foundation. Burris, a 1981 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point who served with the Army Corps of Engineers, chose the 2-pronged theme for his yearlong presidential term to be “Unite and Conquer: Accelerating Progress Together.”

“Uniting and conquering” and “accelerating progress” are goals that can be addressed, and accomplished, through a multidisciplinary team approach to cancer care, believes Burris. He views this approach as essential to every patient’s spectrum of care, with the patient squarely at the center. The approach pairs well with

the ASCO mission, which is conquering cancer through the latest research and education, as well as promoting the importance of quality patient care. Burris returned to the mission time and again, sharing highlights from the past year while noting how far the fi eld of oncology still has to go to improve the quality of cancer care through education, research, and advocacy—principles that underlie ASCO’s mission.

“We’ve had advancements, but we need to go faster,” Burris pointed out, stressing the importance of advancing therapies for better patient outcomes by addressing obstacles to patients’ care. “Access to care, access to clinical trials, and access to information are really key.”

Burris highlighted’ASCO CancerLinQ, an initiative that is aggregating big data from clinicians across the country, analyzing the findings. The entire cancer community will have access to CancerLinQ. Burris also described ASCO’s push to transform care delivery, and in doing so he broached an issue that continues to trouble many: patients’ inability to access care because of fi nancial reasons. ASCO is helping to address this barrier to health care through its’Patient-Centered Oncology Payment Program, an alternative payment model meant to ensure access to high-quality and high-value care.

Last fall, Burris noted, ASCO volunteers held more than 160 meetings, advocating to Congress on behalf of the Bipartisan Clinical Treatment Act, which would require Medicaid to cover the routine costs that come with being in a clinical trial, including doctor visits and lab studies. The act is meant to open up access of patients, especially underrepresented minorities, to potential treatment advances. It would be a victory for ASCO and for patients with cancer, Burris stressed.

Burris noted how his 30-plus years as a clinical researcher, clinical oncologist, leader of people—there are more than 1000 now at Sarah Cannon—military experience, and dual passions of cancer drug development and phase 1 clinical trials have opened his eyes to so much high-quality work that is going on both in the United States and around the world. It’s given him a great sense of faith and confi dence in the future of the field to see so many people pulling together to try to improve cancer care.

“We are strongest together. We are united in our mission to reduce the global burden of cancer,” Burris said. “We need all of you serving on our committees and task forces, connecting and collaborating, to solve the complex problems of cancer care. Together we are a powerhouse.”