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Spotlight on State Affiliates: Idaho Member Raises Awareness of Drug Shortages on Capitol Hill

Apr 16, 2012

ASCO State/Regional Affiliate members are oncology professionals, but they are also advocates for their profession and their patients on issues of critical concern arise in health care, whether at the local, state, or national level. When Dan S. Zuckerman, MD, of St. Luke's Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI), Boise, Idaho, witnessed the effects of oncology drug shortages at his institution, he traveled to Washington, DC, to speak with representatives on behalf of his patients, his colleagues at St. Luke’s, and his fellow members of the Idaho Society of Clinical Oncology.

Thomas M Beck, MD, of St Luke’s MSTI and President of the Idaho Society of Clinical Oncology, praised Dr. Zuckerman’s advocacy efforts. “Dan’s a very astute and involved physician. He’s very much an advocate for his patients, which was behind his visit to Washington and his interaction with the Congressional representatives from Idaho. I think this is very admirable on Dan’s part and it’s an endeavor which more oncology physicians should make,” he said.

AC: How have you, your institution, and your patients been affected by the ongoing drug shortages?
Dr. Zuckerman:
There has been a tremendous negative impact of the drug shortages in our practice and for our patients. Each one of us has had to explain to patients that we may not have certain drugs available or that we’re making certain modifications to their regimens and we’re hoping this doesn’t lead to adverse outcomes, but you can never be sure.

The hardest part is the uncertainty. Patients with cancer are already dealing with the ultimate uncertainty. To add questions about drug availability and quality only compounds the physical and emotional toll on our patients.

AC: Why did you decide to travel to Washington to advocate on behalf of Idaho oncologists and patients with cancer?
Dr. Zuckerman:
Oncologists need to engage in the political process. Most of us, myself included, originally went into oncology because we love the blend of science and humanities and because we love taking care of the individual patient and his or her family. However, we also have an immense societal obligation to become better stewards of scarce resources. Our children and our grandchildren depend on this engagement by physicians.

No person in Congress or in the White House, no matter how savvy, is going to come up with a solution to solve the health care crisis without strong participation by physicians and other health providers. We are at an historic moment in our country and I feel honored to represent my cancer center and my state in dealing with these issues.

AC: How did you prepare for the Hill Day?
Dr. Zuckerman:
I didn’t have to. The incredible ASCO staff did all the preparation for me. I just went to the Hill and told the stories of my patients.

AC: Who did you meet with and what did you discuss?
Dr. Zuckerman:
It was a terrific experience. I met with Representative Mike Simpson’s staffers, and then personally met with Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo. We talked a little bit about the sustainable growth rate (SGR), but focused most of our discussions on the drug shortage issue.

AC: What did the Hill Day accomplish?
Dr. Zuckerman:
It primarily raised awareness about the issue of the national drug shortages. This was an issue that was flying a little under the radar for most people in Congress and I think we got it on their agenda. Reminding our Congressional representatives that these were real people in their districts who were directly suffering from these ongoing drug shortages helped hit home.

AC: Do you have any recommendations for ways oncology professionals can get involved in the issue?
Dr. Zuckerman:
Patients are very savvy. They read as much as we do and are often aware of health care issues like drug shortages. I encourage them to send a quick letter to their Senator and Representative. My voice may have rung clear for one day on the Hill, but the collective voice of constituents will ring even clearer. After all, we’re all in this together.
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