May 28, 2020
By Abdul Rahman Jazieh, MD, MPH; Clarissa Mathias, MD; and Alvaro Rogado
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted health care systems throughout the world, leading to overwhelming stress on health care delivery and affecting the lives of millions of patients globally. The interruption of health care delivery and the associated risk of infections posed more serious threats to patients with cancer, as they are a very vulnerable population requiring timely coordinated care to attain the best outcome. There were many unknown facts about the new, deadly pandemic that made health care providers, including oncologists, unsure of the best action for different scenarios encountered. On the other hand, the pandemic was accompanied by an information tsunami; it was overwhelming for most practicing physicians to decipher this flood of information to provide the best care for their patients.
ASCO Takes Action
Fulfilling its mission to the global oncology community, ASCO stepped up to its leadership role in extending a very well-organized series of virtual presentations addressing various aspects of COVID-19 and its impact of cancer care. The ASCO Global Webinar Series: Experiences and Lessons During the COVID-19 Pandemic was launched on April 14, 2020, and has covered topics that are of concern to practicing oncologists in different parts of the world. The series started by covering experiences from countries that were hit hard by the pandemic (namely Spain and Italy) and how the oncologists prioritized the care and treatment of their patients while protecting patients and staff from infections. The second webinar covered issues related to testing patients, interpreting the results, and properly triaging and screening patients in oncology clinics. Telehealth was a significant factor and was discussed to help audience optimize the use of these tools. Health care provider well-being and mental health were also addressed to increase awareness on how to recognize symptoms of burnout and ways to mitigate the harms.
Challenges and opportunities in research were addressed, with a peek at the future evolution of the research field. As a multidisciplinary society representing all providers of care to patients with cancer, ASCO’s webinars introduced talks about managing surgical and radiation oncology issues that have arisen in the pandemic.
Looking beyond the current crisis, there were presentations on how to handle the backlog and surge of workload and how to navigate into full recovery to the new normal of cancer care delivery.
Speakers were internationally renowned experts from different disciplines and regions including Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.
A total of 2,800 attendees have participated in the webinar series, either by attending the live events or watching the recordings online. Participant engagement was strong and reflected by the number of attendees from different countries, their course evaluations, their comments, and their questions on what topics to cover and issues to address. Participants joined the webinars live from more than 25 countries, with the largest numbers of participants coming from Japan, the United States, and Spain.
Table: ASCO Global Webinar Series Participants, By Country
The overwhelming majority were satisfied with their learning experience.
Figure: Helpfulness of ASCO Global Webinar Series, According to Participant Feedback
Many participants provided recommendations for future topics, such as management of specific cancers and planning for the post-pandemic future.
Of note, these webinars are available to watch at your convenience online.
“The ASCO Global Webinar Series on COVID-19 was a true representation of ASCO’s role as a global leader in oncology, providing guidance and knowledge in this time of uncertainty. The speakers were international experts from different regions representing different disciplines sharing real-world experiences to a global audience who were engaged in the process and helped improved it. The webinars exemplify how timely education should be provided based on the current needs using the best available method of delivery.” —Abdul Rahman Jazieh, MD, MPH, Saudi Arabia
“ASCO is fulfilling a crucial role to patients with cancer and providers by setting up webinars focusing on cancer and COVID-19. It was a lively and engaging experience.” —Jean-Charles Soria, MD, PhD, France
“It has been a great privilege to serve as speaker on the ASCO Global Webinar Series. The lessons we can take home from our discussion were: 1) All health care workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and the community [in Italy] should have been tested for COVID-19, and those testing positive should have been isolated, even if they were asymptomatic; 2) Even more importantly, an urgent and decisive state lockdown should have been implemented to contain the epidemic [in Italy]. This step could have reduced the number of COVID-19 cases, prevented hospitals from being overwhelmed, and potentially limited the number of deaths.” —Giuseppe Curigliano, MD, PhD, Italy
“Every one of us, as an oncology professional, is under a very high level of stress to protect patients, medical staff, and our families from COVID-19. Being a speaker at the ASCO Global Webinar was an impressive moment to share and re-emphasize that we are not fighting the pandemic alone and there is always something to be learned from each other.” —Jeeyun Lee, MD, Republic of Korea
“The pandemic is turning health professionals into social media superheroes, but even the best prepared heroes hide their weakness under their capes…the opportunity [to participate in the ASCO webinar] was everything I needed to contribute and pick myself up. In this challenging scenario, we should take our well-being seriously and also listen and provide support to our peers.” —Angélica Nogueira Rodrigues, MD, Brazil
“The webinar provided an opportunity for oncologists to consider practice changes when COVID-19 wanes. We all envision a new normal. With re-imagining clinic flow and incorporation of changes such as increased use of telemedicine, we may emerge with a smarter, more efficient approach to cancer care.” —2020-2021 ASCO president Lori J. Pierce, MD, FASCO, FASTRO, United States
Due to the success of the webinar series and the continuous need to address many evolving issues, ASCO will continue the series on a monthly basis starting after the ASCO20 Virtual Scientific Meeting. The future Webinars will address issues related to recovery phase of the pandemic, incorporating best practices into the new normal to manage patients better with and without crisis and presenting any significant updates that may impact cancer care.
Acknowledgement: The ASCO Global Webinar Series would not have been successful without the dedication and hard work of ASCO staff, including Doug Pyle, Dr. Stephen Grubbs, Brian Bourbeau, Walter Birch, Tom Oliver, Vanessa Eaton, Ronda Bowman, Terry Gilmore, Alex Roach, Sarah Bachmann, and Megan Kremzier.
Dr. Jazieh is chair of the Department of Oncology at King Abdulaziz Medical City, King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences, Saudi Arabia, and a past chair of the ASCO International Affairs Committee. Follow him on Twitter @arjazieh. Dr. Mathias is president of the Brazilian Society of Clinical Oncology (SBOC) and will serve as 2020-2021 chair of the ASCO International Affairs Committee. Follow her on Twitter @clarissamathias. Mr. Rogado is the executive director of Fundación ECO, Spain. Follow him on Twitter @alvarorogado. All three authors served as organizers and faculty for the ASCO Global Webinar Series.