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Oct 5, 2021

Dr. Gabrielle Rocque, chair of the 2021 ASCO Quality Care Symposium, breast oncologist and health services researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and symposium chair-elect, Dr. Stephanie Wheeler, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, discuss key interventions in quality care and compelling patient perspectives presented at #ASCOQLTY21.


ASCO Daily News: Welcome to the ASCO Daily News podcast. I'm Geraldine Carroll, a reporter for the ASCO Daily News. On today's episode, we'll discuss promising interventions to improve the quality of care for patients and survivors and other key takeaways from the 2021 ASCO Quality Care Symposium.

I'm delighted to welcome the chair and chair-elect of the [ASCO Quality Care] Symposium, Dr. Gabrielle Rocque and Dr. Stephanie Wheeler, for this discussion. Dr. Rocque is a breast oncologist and health services researcher. She is also associate professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology and Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Dr. Wheeler is a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also serves as associate director of community outreach and engagement at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. My guests' full disclosures are available in our show notes, and disclosures relating to all episodes of the podcast are available on our transcripts at

Dr. Rocque and Dr. Wheeler, thanks for being on the podcast today.

Dr. Gabrielle Rocque: Thank you for having us.

ASCO Daily News: Dr. Wheeler, it was wonderful to have a hybrid event this year, with people participating in person in Boston and virtually. This is surely a sign of things to come. Can you tell us about some of the most important interventions in quality improvement that were presented at the [ASCO Quality Care] Symposium?

Dr. Stephanie Wheeler: Absolutely, and thank you so much for hosting us. It was a really terrific [ASCO Quality Care] Symposium. And the fact that we had hybrid engagement from investigators all over the country and internationally was really exciting.

There's a couple of intervention classes, if you want to call it that, that I think were particularly inspiring and interesting to me. The first were sets of interventions that focused on strategies to improve goals of care conversations and advanced care planning directives for patients with cancer or people with terminal illness in particular. And I just wanted to highlight a couple of those that I thought were particularly innovative.

One was Abstract 8, which focused on using computer modeling and care coaches to increase advanced care planning conversations for people with advanced cancer. And this was presented by Dr. Divya Gupta. And it was just a wonderful example of how we can utilize technology and also care coaches. And in many cases, these don't necessarily have to be clinicians. They sometimes can be community health workers and others who can help direct those conversations and make it more comfortable for people living with advanced disease, and also their families, to consider next steps.

In a similar vein, there were two other presentations--Abstract 1 delivered by Dr. Manali Patel and Abstract 2 delivered by Dr. Divya Parikh--that also utilized a similar model in a different care setting. And in those cases, the care settings ranged from VA to integrated health care settings. And we even had a conversation about how to do this work in community rural oncology practices. And I think that this kind of intervention has the potential for translation across a variety of settings. And the next steps are going to be figuring out exactly how to implement it in these settings.

So, that's one class that I thought was particularly interesting. And I just want to highlight another group of interventions and studies that I found really innovative. And those were the presentations about hospital at-home models and how we can better deliver oncology care in the comfort of individuals' homes. And I thought Dr. Cardinale Smith did a great job from Mount Sinai describing the landscape of those interventions and the future for this kind of care delivery (“Overview of Programs and Ethics”).

ASCO Daily News: Excellent. Great to hear about those promising new approaches. Dr. Rocque, the [ASCO Quality Care] Symposium captured many trends in quality care, including patient-reported outcomes measurement as an important way to monitor quality of care and patients' experiences. Can you highlight the studies that will help inform our listeners about how to integrate patient-reported outcomes into real-world settings?

Dr. Gabrielle Rocque: Yeah. This was a major topic of the conference this year to think about how patient-reported outcomes are informative both in traditional research settings and in real-world settings.

So, I was really intrigued by the Abstract 154 by Joy Jarnagin. And that abstract talked about how the changes in patient-reported outcomes actually had a very strong association with patients' treatment response, and in fact, was even more informative than those patients' tumor markers and I think show a novel way that patient-reported outcomes can be used.

We also saw some more traditional abstracts on patient-reported outcomes. I'd like to highlight Abstract 152 by Valerie Lawhon, which really used patient-reported outcomes to identify patients' experience and their mental health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I think provided us some really important insight into the experiences of our patients.

And then as you mentioned, there is a lot of focus on real-world settings and how to transition from typical research patient-reported outcomes to a more broad scale implementation. And the session implementing PROs in oncology practice was really outstanding in terms of considering how this can be done.

So, Dr. Terry Mulvey from Massachusetts General Hospital presented their experience on how to get these patient-reported outcomes into routine care, and what are some of the challenges associated with that, and how did they have to adapt to make sure that this was doable in real-world settings (“Challenges to Getting Started in a Practice Setting”).

I was also impressed with the study by Dr. Raymond Osarogiagbon on the potential populations where there can be barriers of care and their study looking at an intervention in which they're implementing patient-reported outcomes over a wide variety of different practice types across the country (“Potential Populations Where This Can Be a Barrier to Care”). And I think these early insights also pointed us to future questions.

Dr. Wynne Norton did a wonderful job of outlining some of the future questions that are likely to come up as we move into an era where patient-reported outcomes are a part of standard of care, and really think about how do we refine these for maximal benefit (“Overview of Current Strategies”). So, I think all of these sessions were highlighting the promise of patient-reported outcomes, as well as the future questions in this space.

ASCO Daily News: Excellent. As a specialist in gerontology, geriatrics, and palliative care, please tell us about new approaches that oncologists should be aware of as they strive to provide high quality care for older patients and those receiving palliative care.

Dr. Gabrielle Rocque: Absolutely. So, we've talked a bit about the patient-reported outcomes. And I think we'd be remiss in not highlighting the presentation on geriatric assessment--the presentations on the geriatric assessments into clinical practice by Dr. [Rawad] Elias (“Incorporating Geriatric Assessments Into Practice”). And I think this highlights another opportunity for us to move the field forward and take better care of our older adults.

In terms of palliative care, there were multiple very informative abstracts. Dr. Wheeler has highlighted a few in the space of care guides or lay health coaches providing support in advanced care planning.

In addition, we saw an interesting discussion of caregiver interventions for patients that are receiving--with cancer treatment by Dr. Nick Dionne-Odom (“Caregiver Interventions”). And I think it's important that we remember both the patients and the caregivers who are affected by cancer and by the amount of work that has to be done to support a patient with cancer going through their journey.

ASCO Daily News: Absolutely, so important to remember caregivers and their needs and resources that could be available to them as well. Dr. Wheeler, financial toxicity is an enormous concern for many patients and their families, and the oncology care community has been trying for some time to figure out how best to address the concerns of patients and the health care system. Are there any new interventions that we should be aware of?

Dr. Stephanie Wheeler: Yes, and I think that the [ASCO Quality Care] Symposium was an opportunity to hear about several of those. And some of them didn't make it onto the main stage but were featured in abstract sessions and poster sessions.

So, as we're all well aware, financial toxicity is a multidimensional set of constructs that includes patients and their family’s material out-of-pocket burden, as well as the psychological distress and potentially harmful care altering behaviors that financial hardship induces. And so, we continue to hear at the [ASCO Quality Care] Symposium multiple talks about the strain that patients are undergoing, including the non-medical hardship that's introduced by a cancer diagnosis. And that was really interesting, and I think important to document.

But I think that where the field is moving is more towards interventions, both behavioral interventions and systems interventions, multilevel approaches to dealing with the hardship itself as well as the importance of policy. So, there were several abstracts that talked about the introduction of biosimilars and generics and how that affected price of many of the oncologic drugs available on the market.

And frankly, the message is a bit discouraging. Prices continue to rise. And in some cases, the price increases are not limited to pharmacologic products. In some cases, we saw abstracts presenting the increased cost of surgery, of outpatient care appointments, and things like that as well. So, we're not going to fix the problem by managing drug pricing alone.

In terms of patient and family-directed interventions, I thought that there were some interesting abstracts. I want to highlight a number 53--or excuse me, Abstract 43 by Melissa Beauchemin that focused on the existence of hospital specialty pharmacies and partnering with freestanding care coordination organizations to improve access to oncology medications, as well as Abstract 96 presented by Ms. Rachel Marquez which was focused on resolving transportation disparities and access to cancer treatments. These kinds of interventions are obviously patient directed but have tremendous potential.

And then I also want to just note a couple of additional studies that are ongoing that are important to recognize in this field. There are at least five National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded R01 trials underway right now investigating the role of financial navigation and various iterations of it in different care settings.

So, I think we will want to look to this meeting as an opportunity to hear about that work as it moves forward. And how that work is implemented is going to be vital, because the types of care settings where it's being done--ranging from AYA populations in Utah, to urban populations in Washington state, to integrated care organizations in Northern California, all the way to parts of rural North Carolina--we're going to see a diversity of outcomes and different ways in which those types of interventions can manifest in those different studies.

I also want to note that the NCI has funded a series of supplements through its Cancer Center Core Grant Initiative that are all focused on identification, timely identification of financial toxicity in practice. And many of the investigators leading that work were attending the [ASCO Quality Care] Symposium, and so that will be important to keep an eye on as we move forward as well.

ASCO Daily News: Excellent. Dr. Rocque, let's focus on health equity and access. I'd like to ask you about the session on eliminating barriers to clinical trial access. The presenters of this session shared strategies to directly address inclusion and diversity in cancer care. Can you tell us about approaches that caught your attention?

Dr. Gabrielle Rocque: Absolutely. So, this was a really great session talking about clinical trial access and barriers, and particularly as it relates to health equity. And so, in Abstract 74, Dr. Joe Unger presented a really interesting conceptual model that highlighted that the barriers to clinical trial access are not necessarily always at the patient level, but they are at the system level, the provider level.

And this framework for considering how do we target in the future our ability to engage patients in clinical trials was really important, and I think was complemented well by the patient perspective from Rick Bangs, who's worked closely with SWOG, in thinking about how do patients view clinical trials and how can we better engage them. And I think folding together these different experiences and models to develop future interventions.

I also thought the Abstract 75 looking at survival in the real-world analysis was noteworthy. And in particular, the ability to consider patients who are typically excluded from clinical trials based on their laboratory criteria and potentially having something like chronic kidney disease, and how little data there is on those patients who actually, in this study, had different outcomes after chemotherapy for breast cancer.

I think when you think about clinical trial access and inclusion, I also think you need to think about how we collect our data and how we consider race and other social determinants of health. So, there were a few other abstracts that, although not in this session, I think were incredibly important for us to consider.

The first is Abstract 78 by Ms. Niveditta Ramkumar that talked about the association between rurality and race and surgical treatment and outcomes for non-metastatic colon cancer. And so, she talked a bit about the intersectionality between race and rurality, and I think brings up an important topic that we need to think about these constructs, not only as individual constructs but how they impact each other as we consider analysis in the future.

And also Abstract 80 by Dr. Kekoa Taparra, which was a really interesting abstract that talked about the disaggregation of Pacific Islanders in major Asian subpopulations to reveal hidden cancer disparities. So, in this abstract, he discussed how we often lump together different populations, potentially because of small numbers, who really may have very different experiences and characteristics.

And I think challenges us to move the field forward by identifying populations in groups that are, in fact, very similar to each other and not just pulling this together. And I think that will have an impact on how we view engaging patients in clinical trials, as well as reporting those clinical trial results that allows our providers to understand how the trial results fit for the patient that is sitting in their clinic for whom they're making their decisions.

ASCO Daily News: Indeed. Dr. Wheeler, is there anything that you'd like to add on the issue of access to clinical trials?

Dr. Stephanie Wheeler: So, there was an abstract that particularly sparked my attention, [Abstract] 79 presented by Dr. Jenny Xiang about the VA Connecticut Cancer Experience, where universal pre-screening and using computer algorithms to identify patients who might be eligible for clinical trials was used. And I think that this is an important approach that can help us rely less on the assumptions and the biases that exist in clinical care practice about whether a patient may or may not participate in a clinical trial, and instead use the vast amounts of information that we know about them in their electronic health record to try to preemptively identify them and approach them.

We know that when patients are asked and invited to be part of trials, they are much more likely to say yes than people assume. And this could be a more unbiased way of assessing that eligibility, and then proactively identifying people, ideally, with a trial navigator. I think that would enable us to potentially overcome some of the barriers that exist and that are, frankly, institutionally biased in many cases.

ASCO Daily News: Thank you, Dr. Wheeler. Dr. Rocque, the [ASCO Quality Care] Symposium featured an excellent keynote address by Dr. Ben Corn of Hebrew University of Jerusalem (“Integrating Hope – Real Hope! – Into Clinical Oncology”) and a wonderful lecture by Dr. John Cox, who was honored with the Joseph V. Simone award for advancing quality cancer care (“Reshaping Practice: Necessary Trouble”). Can you share some highlights from their talks?

Dr. Gabrielle Rocque: Definitely. So, the keynote address by Dr. Ben Corn was perfectly timed for this meeting. I think everyone has had a difficult past 2 years with the pandemic. And his message of the importance of hope really struck a chord with me and many of the attendees, and how this is something that we can strategically work to improve, and that hope is something we can modify and train for. And so, I'm really excited to both hear this lecture and then also see what's to come in the future in this domain of hope-related research.

Another session that I would like to highlight as well is Dr. Cox's talk after receiving the Joe Simone Achievement Award. And his lecture highlighted that change is coming. And he emphasized the importance of changing payment structures to be able to improve the quality of care that patients receive and to be able to leverage those changes for infrastructure that allows us to enable our health system to have a more patient-centered approach with many of the types of interventions that we've been talking about here today. So, I think both of those sessions are really must-watch sessions that I would like to highlight today.

ASCO Daily News: Excellent. Well, the [ASCO Quality Care] Symposium also heard some compelling patient perspectives. Dr. Wheeler, can you share some of these messages with us?

Dr. Stephanie Wheeler: One of the most powerful sessions in the entire meeting was the very first one, which was focused on the metavivor experience (“The Patient Voice: “Metavivors” and Long-Term Survivorship Care”). And I think because part of the intention of the planning committee was to proactively feature patients' voices at this meeting, this particular session was almost entirely comprised of patients and survivors.

And living with advanced disease, as we know now, is very different than it was in the past. And we know that patients living with incurable disease may sometimes go on to live 15, 20, 25 years. And their needs are quite different than patients who have early-stage cancer. And so, this session was impactful because it represented a range of experiences. We heard from a caregiver. We heard from a young woman who's living with stage four melanoma, Dr. Tarlise Townsend (“An AYA Perspective”).

And one of the things that I took away from this session in particular was that our approaches in the way that we talk to metavivors has to be fundamentally different, that they want providers to be truthful, they want providers to acknowledge the uncertainty and prognosis and the sometimes complex and rapidly changing regimens that may be available for them in terms of dealing with their disease. But they don't want to be condescended to, they don't want to feel like there's information that is being withheld.

One of the things that Dr. Townsend shared that was very powerful was that she talked about how her providers, in many cases, outlined an optimistic future for her and would give her maybe unfair expectations about what the future might hold and think about it in terms of the outlier effect. But that's not the case for many people with her condition. And so, she talked about having to do her own death work--and that's her term--and how much time she spent really trying to understand for herself what the future looked like.

And it just resonated so much with me. And everybody on this panel had similar stories to share about their experiences. And it reminded me that at the end of the day, we're all human. None of us deal with uncertainty well. None of us deal with death well, or the prospect of death. But the best that we can do in these situations is to be open and honest and straightforward and recognize the fear and the hope and all of that being intermingled, and really respect the person's autonomy and the person's experience and their ability to make plans for themselves going forward.

ASCO Daily News: Thank you, Dr. Wheeler. We will have links to these important patient perspectives in the transcript of this episode, as well as the other abstracts discussed today. Dr. Rocque and Dr. Wheeler, thank you very much for sharing these important highlights from the 2021 ASCO Quality Care Symposium.

Dr. Stephanie Wheeler: Thank you for having us.

Dr. Gabrielle Rocque: Thank you so much.

ASCO Daily News: And thank you to our listeners for your time today. If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Dr. Gabrielle Rocque:

Consulting or Advisory Role: Pfizer, Flatiron

Research Funding: Carevive Systems, Genentech, Pfizer

Travel, Accommodations, Expenses: Carevive (an immediate family member)

Dr. Stephanie Wheeler:

Research Funding (institution): Pfizer Foundation

Travel, Accommodations, Expenses: Pfizer

Disclaimer: The purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. This is not a substitute for professional medical care and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of individual conditions. Guests on this podcast express their own opinions, experience, and conclusions. The mention of any product, service, organization, activity, or therapy should not be construed as an ASCO endorsement.