Home > Magazine > Society

ASCO’s Health Disparities Efforts Now Led by Standing ASCO Committee

Feb 11, 2013

Despite tremendous improvements to cancer screening and treatment over the last several decades, segments of the American population still experience significant inequities in access to care, quality of care, and cancer outcomes. The elimination of these disparities, particularly among the underserved, uninsured, and minority populations, is critically important for lessening the national burden of cancer.

ASCO first began its efforts to address disparities in cancer care more than a decade ago through the work of an advisory group of the ASCO Board. These efforts have led to significant accomplishments (see table below). To reflect the permanent nature of ASCO’s disparities work and more accurately reflect its programmatic scope, in January 2013, the ASCO Board made the decision to change the status of ASCO’s Health Disparities Advisory Group to a standing committee of the Society.

The Health Disparities Committee is charged with overseeing ASCO’s portfolio of disparities related initiatives, which are aimed to address the following goals:

  • Education & Awareness: Advance the education of the oncology community in the care of patients from underserved and/or minority populations.
  • Workforce Diversity: Increase the diversity of the clinical oncology workforce as a requisite to improving access to cancer care for the underserved.
  • Research: Support research and the development of clinical cancer researchers in the area of health disparities.
  • Policy & Advocacy: Advocate for policy that ensures access to cancer care for the underserved and that supports increased clinical cancer research in health disparities.
  • Equity: Promote a focus on minority and underserved populations in quality assessment and improvement.

“As oncology professionals, we have a responsibility to work toward closing any disparities gaps and to advocate for sound public policies that increase access for all patients with cancer no matter who they are or where they live,” said ASCO President Sandra M. Swain, MD, FACP.

Health disparities in cancer outcomes are undoubtedly complex. According to the Institute of Medicine, “the sources of these disparities are complex, are rooted in historic and contemporary inequities and involve many participants at several levels including health systems, their administrative and bureaucratic process, utilization managers, healthcare professionals and patients.”

“Only through a combination of efforts—addressing the delivery of care, enhancing the number and training of oncologists caring for diverse populations, and strengthening research on health disparities—can we deliver the significant achievements that are critical to improving care for all,” said ASCO Health Disparities Committee Chair Blase Polite, MD, MPP.

As the leading medical society representing physicians engaged in cancer care and research, ASCO recommends that there be no further delay in ensuring that underserved populations receive high quality cancer care.

“Achieving health equity for all patient populations will be a long process that will require steps and real input from many partners and stakeholders,” Dr. Polite said. “The formation of this Committee ensures ASCO’s long-term commitment to a health care system where all cancer patients benefit from the tremendous advances being made in cancer care”

ASCO’s major health disparities efforts over the past five years include:

  • Promoted a better understanding on the science of health disparities through Annual Meeting programs.
  • Collaborated with the Oncology Training Programs Committee to develop a strategy to diversify the oncology workforce; launched the Diversity in Oncology Initiative.
  • Highlighted health disparities related content in the Journal of Oncology Practice.
  • Published ASCO policy statement on disparities in cancer care in Journal of Clinical Oncology
  • Integrated cancer health disparities into ASCO’s guidelines program which include discussion sections of diverse and/or special populations in ASCO guidelines.
  • Facilitated development of an online education module on ASCO University on quality care for minority populations.
  • Published ASCO policy statement in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on opportunities in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to reduce cancer care disparities.
  • Developed a set of disparities-related questions in ASCO’s Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI®) to collect demographic data, including the collection of race/ethnicity, insurance status, percentage of non-English speaking patients, and availability of interpretation services
  • Increased policy and advocacy activities by meeting with legislators, joining the Heath Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA) Working Group and providing feedback on the legislation introduced into the Senate.

Back to Top