ASCO Meeting Goes Virtual Due to COVID-19

Due to COVID-19, the ASCO Annual Meeting will now occur using a virtual format.

Due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting will now occur using a virtual format instead of the in-person meeting that had been scheduled to take place in Chicago from May 29 to June 2, according to a press release from the organization.

“Our mission is as important as ever. That is why we still intend to deliver the latest cancer science to the global community during the Annual Meeting timeframe using a virtual format that respects the contributions of the authors and the work of the Scientific Program Committee. In addition, abstracts will be published online and in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on our usual schedule,” the organization announced.

The exact logistics for holding the virtual meeting have not yet been established.

“The scientific program will feature the same high-quality content as has come to be expected of ASCO and will enable people to engage remotely around the world. Additional information about the meeting will be shared in the coming weeks as further details are finalized.

We understand that many members and Annual Meeting participants are wondering about our specific plans and hope you understand that we are currently working to resolve the large number of operational details this change in plans creates. Information on the format, dates, specific content, registration, refunds, and many other details will be available in the coming weeks,” ASCO explained in the press release.

ASCO has been proactive in addressing COVID-19­—related issues and in a webinar for its members on March 19, the organization detailed resources it has made available for its members and other critical information for the oncology community.

ASCO Programs

On the webinar, Stephen S. Grubbs, MD, FASCO, ASCO’s vice president of Clinical Affairs, provided updates on key ASCO programs, including the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI), which facilitates self-examination and improvement in outpatient-oncology practices. Regarding the QOPI certification program, Grubbs said, “Because of the pandemic, we have suspended all practice visits for audits in the foreseeable future. And practices that may be having their certifications lapse—that will not happen. The certification will remain in place until the situation improves where we can get back to doing the onsite surveys.”

Grubb’s also said that ASCO’s consulting services and engagement programs have suspended onsite visits and will now be doing tele-consulting support for practices involved with the programs.

ASCO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Oncology Resource Center

As the COVID-19 situation started to worsen, ASCO began to envision ways the organization could offer support to help inform providers across the entire cancer care spectrum. A first key step ASCO took was to ask their members to contribute questions that would subsequently be aggregated into an FAQ resource.

As the crisis worsened, and the questions and concerns from ASCO members mounted, the organization went from answering questions on an ad hoc basis to setting up an entire rapid response team to answer questions more efficiently and effectively.

“Some of the questions are more difficult to answer than others. We’re getting questions, such as whether to delay treatment, or otherwise alter the treatment path, which can have serious consequences. There’s also [the question of] what do we do if a provider gets infected, or a clinic is exposed. In some cases, we simply have to say, ‘We don’t know what’s the best practice to do.’ In other cases, we consult with a wider body of experts to make sure we get the right answer and we try to turn these questions around within a 24- to 48-hour period,” Thomas Oliver, director of ASCO’s Clinical Practice Guidelines Division, said on the webinar.

ASCO now has an entire Coronavirus (COVID-19) Oncology Resource Center on its site and Oliver said that, based on trends, the Q/A section is now divided into 3 areas: clinical care, practice operations, and state and national policy.

“With clinical care, we are using literature searches and expert insights from volunteers in ASCO clinical practice guideline programs to help you care for your patients,” said Grubbs.

The practice operations section involves practical application of CDC facility preparedness and infection control recommendations, and information from an expert panel of ASCO’s Clinical Practice Committee and Quality Care Council leadership.

Grubbs addressed a few matters related to practice operations on the webinar. He said oncology practices should have the CDC recommendations on how to protect yourself in public posted in their offices so patients can be reminded of the information in writing.

He also said oncologists should limit the entry points to their facilities, and that “patients and visitors should be screened upon arrival and before they actually enter into the waiting area. Patients with suspected infections should be immediately isolated.”

Regarding staff, Grubbs said, “All staff entering rooms with known or suspected infections should adhere to the standard precautions and use a respirator or facemask, as well as gowns, gloves, and eye protection.”

He added, “If you have personal who have not had infections prevention and control training, the World Health Organization has a training module that you can refer them to so they can learn how to do infection control.”

With the third category of questions, State and National Policy, ASCO provides answers to questions related to the CDC, CMS, and other regulatory updates and how they relate to oncology clinical practice.

Oliver said that as more questions come in and information becomes available, ASCO will be updating its Coronavirus (COVID-19) Oncology Resource Center on a rolling basis. However, he stressed that ASCO will not be including every detail related to COVID-19 in general on its resource page. “We’re trying to not clutter this resource center with every coronavirus-related resource we find. We’re really trying to keep it focused on what people are identifying as a cancer care gap.”

ASCO COVID-19 Legislative Update

ASCO also provided a legislative and regulatory update on the webinar.

“As has been widely reported, Congress has completed 2 and is working on at least 1 additional emergency relief package. ASCO is closely monitoring legislative activity and looking for opportunities to engage on issues of concern such as supply shortages, limited availability of tests, and practice viability, as these efforts move forward,” said Amanda Schwartz, ASCO’s director of Congressional Affairs.

One of the 2 relief packages, the $8.3 billion Coronavirus Preparedness & Response Supplemental Appropriates Act, was signed into law on March 6. “One notable inclusion in this package is $500 million to the CMS for expanded telehealth,” said Schwartz.

The potential third relief package Congress is working on is focusing on economic stimulus to impacted industries. “There have been calls from hospital and provider groups, such as the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association, for this package to include surge funding to tackle supply and workforce shortages in healthcare, as well as further telehealth flexibility.”

“ASCO will continue to follow these developments closely and weigh in, as appropriate,” concluded Schwartz.

Also commenting on regulatory matters relevant to oncology professionals was Gina Baxter, an associate director at ASCO.

She said that that HHS issue 2 new HCPCS codes, which are used for billing Medicare and Medicaid patients. Code U0001 is for CDC lab testing for COVID-19 and code U0002 is for non-CDC lab testing for COVID-19. Baxter also focused on HHS guidance on telehealth for Medicare recipients in her segment of the webinar.

“Unlike telehealth as it existed before COVID-19, telehealth will now be a service that is available to all Medicare beneficiaries, regardless of geography—you don’t need to live in a rural area, anyone will have access to telehealth services,” she explained.

She also said that patients will be eligible to receive telehealth in their homes for all eligible telehealth services, not just those related to COVID-19.

Lastly, physicians can now accept new patients for telehealth. “Typically, telehealth has only been for established patients. During this public health emergency, HHS will not audit for prior relationship with the patients, which will enable physicians to see new patients,” said Baxter.