The inevitable has happened: a computer is now sitting side-by-side with tumor boards around the globe, rendering second opinions on treatment calls. This computer is none other than an o spring of Watson, the machine that did so well at “Jeopardy” in 2011 and took first prize of $1 million. Watson for Oncology (WFO) is the name of the new iteration from IBM. It achieved 90% concordance with tumor boards at the Manipal Comprehensive Cancer Center in Bengaluru, India, according to results presented at the 2016 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
But not to worry, says SP Somashekhar, MBBS, the lead author of the study: WFO will never replace human oncologists, as it can only generalize based on best-available evidence. Nevertheless, WFO is already viewed by many as an important safeguard against bias and human error, and it’s finding its way into not just rural clinics abroad, where top-level training is unavailable, but into modern facilities, too, where oncologists appreciate being able to cross-check their conclusions. Our story on WFO is on page 34.
In the United States, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), the group that helped to program WFO, intends to use the system in a newly announced collaborative venture with Hackensack Meridian Health, a project that will give both institutions greater dominance in precision medicine in New Jersey.
The Meridian Health-MSKCC partnership announced in December follows the April announcement by MD Anderson and Summit Medical Group to bring advanced cancer services to New Jersey and signals the ever-growing consolidation in the cancer market. “Scale,” a Meridian Health doctor said, is key to precision medicine. It also may be key to economic survival.
Our January cover story on consolidation puts the spotlight on the Florida market, where more oncology centers have closed, merged, or been acquired in recent years than anywhere else in the country. Florida is also home to the largest independent oncology network—Florida Cancer Specialists, which has more than 200 physicians and is not limiting its expansion to the Sunshine State. The group has announced plans to create a company called the American Oncology Network, which would consolidate independents in other states. Be sure to read our story this month on the consolidation wave.
The year 2016 saw much effort among oncologists caused by reform efforts by CMS. Practices did a great deal of internal stretching to prepare for new measures of care that CMS will use to determine positive and negative payment incentives. Last year there was a late reprieve for practices in the form of a decision by CVS Caremark not to reduce the availability of Medicare Part D oncolytics to practice dispensaries. In addition, the Medicare Part B Drug Payment Model ground to a halt for lack of political support. There was much rejoicing in the oncology community. Some viewed the payment model as a backdoor attempt to reduce drug costs by taking more away from oncology practices.
Does this mean independents can sit on their laurels after a year of intense lobbying? No, says the Community Oncology Alliance. There’s more Capitol Hill territory to be covered in 2017. Read about these issues in our year-in-review story on page 10 and our Capitol Beat story on page 28.
And be sure to read our other fine coverage this month in Oncology Business ManagementTM