Dr. Bruce Minsky

Q&A with Dr. Bruce Minsky, ASTRO President

October 13, 2015
by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor
The American Society for Radiation Oncology’s 57th annual meeting will be held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas, from Oct. 18 through Oct. 21. HealthCare Business News spoke with ASTRO president, Dr. Bruce Minsky, to learn more about his background, what to expect at this year’s big event, and this year’s theme, “technology meets patient care.”
HCBN: How did you get involved in ASTRO?
I’ve been a member of ASTRO since my residency. Almost every radiation oncologist is a member. It provides amazing educational and professional development opportunities. Prior to my time as president, I had served on a number of committees.
HCBN: What’s the major initiative or initiatives you’ve championed during your presidency?
The role of the president is to design and oversee the national meeting. So my primary initiative has been to design the theme and appoint committee members that will choose the abstracts and oversee the scientific presentations.
HCBN: Can you tell us about this year’s theme?
I’m excited about this year’s theme. With highlighting how technology meets patient care, we’re talking about the many great advances we’ve made and the variety of new methods available for treating patients. But it’s important that we don’t lose the key point — that we’re providing good patient care. We want to drive the idea that good patient care is not competitive. Instead, it’s synergistic with good technology. What we’re seeing in patient care today is similar to the revolution we’ve seen in communications.
For a long time, phone conversations were the main method to communicate and email was secondary. Now, with email so advanced, sometimes phone conversations are overlooked and there are missed opportunities. So it’s a balance of adopting emerging technology while making sure that the best technology is used case-by-case.
HCBN: Is there anything else you’d like to highlight from this year’s show?
Yes, in addition to the robust array of scientific presentations, there’s a practical hands-on brachytherapy workshop on prostate cancer. We’re also providing a more-integrated program with our physics colleagues in order to drive home the importance of the physics field to radiation oncology.
HCBN: In addition to what you’ve highlighted, what are some other reasons you believe people should attend?
In a short four-day period, attendees get to learn about the latest technology in our field. They learn about the results of clinical trials and have a chance to see some of the new technology highlighted in our exhibit display area. And of course, they have the chance to see colleagues and renew relationships and build new friendships.
And it’s really an opportunity to interact with radiation oncology professionals that attendees might not otherwise have the chance to meet. The audience travels from around the world. In fact, of the 11,000 attendees, about 20 percent are from Asia, so there are some unique perspectives that lend to a healthy discussion. Of the abstracts, 1,600 are from the U.S. and historically, Japan has had the largest representation from Asia. But this year China surpassed them, with 219 abstracts being presented.
I think the change has been in part due to China’s growing economy, even if it has had some problems recently, and there’s more of a demand for high-quality cancer care. So people from China are traveling to get a better understanding and increased knowledge about the technology that lends itself to higher-quality care.
HCBN: Are there any big developments for ASTRO that you’d like to highlight?
We have a number of initiatives in the works. For example, through a partnership with the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, we have the RO-ILS (Radiation Oncology Incident Learning System) patient safety initiative that’s specific to radiation oncology. We also have an accreditation program called APEx (Accreditation Program for Excellence) that we’re rolling out this year. Through APEx, we’ll be the accrediting body submitting data and onsite review. We’re also, of course, an active participant in the Choosing Wisely campaign and have continued to build on our work there. The Choosing Wisely campaign is really a campaign for soul-searching for the medical profession and makes professionals really stop and look at the therapies we’re delivering to make sure they’re valuable and necessary. I think it’s a terrific campaign and the best of all societies participate.
HCBN: What tops the membership’s wish list for what they want from the association?
Members want many things. They want a strong national meeting, scientific expertise, platforms to present their new findings, educational opportunities and strong representation for radiation oncology interests on Capitol Hill.
HCBN: What are the biggest challenges facing ASTRO today?
Our biggest challenge is to continue to show how our modality adds value to medical care. We strongly believe it does and have data that support that, but we must continue to get that data in front of the other specialties and insurance companies to reinforce that idea.
HCBN: Have there been any breakthroughs or is there any ongoing research you’re particularly excited about?
There are some. I can’t talk about the results of the abstracts because they’re still embargoed, but there are some phase 2 and phase 3 studies that will be revealed at the show that are very exciting in their results.
HCBN: What do you think the field will look like 10 years from now?
I think it will continue to grow in both its technological ability to deliver radiation therapy and continue to grow overall in numbers. As our systemic therapy becomes more robust, the use of radiation therapy will continue to grow, so I see a very bright future for those reasons. Despite it being a single modality, if you look at the history over the last few decades, we continue to increase our effectiveness and the indications it’s used for.
HCBN: What abilities will radiation oncologists need to be competitive in the future?
They’ll need to maintain clinical skills in the technical delivery of therapy and understand other fields to be able to integrate other treatments. They’ll need to develop research abilities and undertake trials to prove the value of radiation oncology in the delivery of care, and I think that’s a skill that’s just starting to develop more fully.