In Absentia


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By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

When I first approached Dr. Just on his potential interest in the emergence of social media in healthcare in general and medicine in particular, we engaged in conversations that generally tethered to a contribution to a ‘legacy’ theme.Richard Just MD

Reflecting on a now 40 year career in community based medical oncology he was thinking about winding down his participation in a full time practice while passing on the deep wisdom and insights developed over the decades.

Considering the explosion of digital media platforms and capabilities, and the low hurdle rate to participate via this medium this consideration was rather timely.

The first order of business was to brand that voice and craft a social media ‘presence’.

As I reflected on his last name ‘Just’, and saw a double entendre opportunity to conflate ‘just’ with ‘oncology’ – I thought how perfect! Lets brand you as ‘’. Since in this context ‘just‘ could mean ‘Dr Just’, or solely focused on oncology, or even just in the sense of ‘equity’ or fairness in oncology care. In all cases, the branding expression and focus was clean and consistent with his interest to write, speak and counsel others on the journey.This Week in Oncology

So we created the blog JustOncology and twitter handle @JustOncology (though he principally tweets via @chemosabe1) and shortly thereafter launched the radio show ‘this week in oncology’.

As noted in the masthead above Dr. Just writings would reflect on ‘health, illness & evidence based medicine’. An intentionally broad brush tapestry that included everything from his personal health encounter with heart surgery, the move into value based pricing for oncology services, oncology ACOs, seemingly interminable encounters with EHRs that actually work for the practice, practice mergers, partner relations and the most recent shift into ‘integrative oncology’ which has literally taken him offline for almost a year – at least as a principal contributor to this blog.tumor board

So as his partner, de-facto editor and co-contributor, let this post call attention to two projects that fit squarely into the ‘legacy’ theme and Dr. Just’s valuation of and advocacy for truly ‘patient centered care’.


Meet @TumorBoard aka TumorBoard (dot) com and CancerCenter (dot) TV – both projects in the incubator of ideas in search of funding support.

A little history on @TumorBoard includes the following introduction from our concept paper.


A centerpiece of the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer (COC) standards to accredit hospital based cancer programs is a multidisciplinary conference (aka ‘tumor board’) of doctors and other cancer specialists, who meet on a regular basis to collaborate in the diagnosis and recommend treatment options for cancer patients. An active and vibrant tumor board is an essential consideration in the accreditation process. For further context see the Commission on Cancer’s ‘Cancer Program Standards 2012, Version 1.1: Ensuring Patient-Centered Care.’

As defined by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a ‘tumor board’ is:

A treatment planning approach in which a number of doctors who are experts in different specialties (disciplines) review and discuss the medical condition and treatment options of a patient. In cancer treatment, a tumor board review may include that of a medical oncologist (who provides cancer treatment with drugs), a surgical oncologist (who provides cancer treatment with surgery), and a radiation oncologist (who provides cancer treatment with radiation). Also called multidisciplinary opinion.

Once a popular collegial if not ‘social’ venue to network and learn from one’s peers, periodically present or consult on cases, possibly earn CME credit, if not grab an occasional meal, tumor board has unfortunately lost some of its attraction and ‘gravitas’.

Increased practice complexity, misaligned financial incentives, declining reimbursement and growing demands on physician time, are some of the obstacles resulting in declining physician participation in traditional hospital based tumor boards. Yet few other comparable multidisciplinary, peer based clinical forums outside of mature integrated delivery systems or academic medical centers have the potential to enable the integrated practice of collaborative, coordinated and evidence based community cancer care.

Realizing the Promise of Multidisciplinary Cancer Care

Many assume multidisciplinary care is better care, since it engages multiple minds in the care process, yet in ‘The Need for Assessment and Reassessment of the Hospital Cancer Conference‘, in the Annals of Surgical Oncology, October 2009, Frederick L. Greene, MD, identifies the traditional weakness of many hospital based tumor boards:

most of these [tumor board] conferences…are based on a “show and tell” mentality rather than serving as treatment-planning conferences utilizing the expertise of the participating multidisciplinary experts….

In other words, traditional hospital based tumor boards have not yet fulfilled the promise of better care or improved outcomes as a result of the assumed value add of multidisciplinary engagement in cancer diagnosis and treatment. Apparently, business as usual ‘silo-ed’ medicine remains embedded in the care process even in the midst of what appears to be multidisciplinary consideration.

Why @TumorBoard?

@TumorBoard intends to uniquely address the convergence of several macro trends:

  • The high cost of cancer treatment and parallel shift of a greater share of the total cost burden on to a resource constrained and often health literacy challenged patient.
  • A heightened awareness of the need for increased clinical integration and care coordination across an otherwise silo-ed and discontinuous portfolio of specialties.
  • Formal recognition that the upside of the multi-disciplinary engagement of cancer specialists (i.e., tumor board), has neither realized nor fulfilled its collaborative promise (see: Tumor Boards (Team Huddles) Aren’t Enough to Reach the Goal).
  • Emergence of an informed and engaged ‘e-patient’ (witness the launch of SmartPatients).
  • A nascent yet growing pool of technology savvy, patient-centric cancer specialists who value peer based collaborative multidisciplinary care with active engagement of the patients under their care (See e-patients and the Society for Participatory Medicine).

For more information, download the TumorBoard concept paper via tumorboard_description_v1.5.




What Is Cancer?


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By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

It’s been a while since Dr. Just has been able to put pen to pad and update you on his journey (and their is lots to tell from group mergers to a continuing drama with EHR implementation) into social media and a ‘transition’ to full to part time practice in a multi-site community oncology practice. More soon from Dr. J aka @chemosabe1 – at least I’ve been told.

Meanwhile, below is a clip producer by Jay Walker the curator of TEDMED and noted Professor of Medicine and Engineering at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and Viterbi School of Engineering oncologist David B, Agus, MD well worth a view!

Also, we had a great session today on ‘this week in oncology’ chatting with Stephen Wilkins the publisher of ‘Mind The Gap’ blog. You can listen here.


Big Data, Government and Cancer Research: A Benefit for Patients?


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By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

On the Wednesday, July 24th, 2013 broadcast of This Week in Oncology at 2PM Pacific/5PM Eastern our special guest is entrepreneur, social media thought leader and Forbes Contributor Dan Munro aka @danmunro.This Week in Oncology

Dan recently penned a piece for Forbes titled: ‘Big Government Opens Big Database For Cancer Research

This catchy headline caught my attention since part of our mission at This Week In Oncology is to eliminate the esoterica from ‘oncology-speak’ and to present the significance of the discoveries, trends and developments in the cancer care and dignostics in plain english for more general consumption.

Much progress has been realized in medica oncology of late with a fair amount of the promisesd upside of ‘personalized [or individualized] medicine’ often pointing to better outcomes via more targeted treatment of specific tumors based on their unique genetic signature.

So called ‘big data’ is in the news as ubiquitous technology, connectivity, the declining costs of massive data dragnets and disease specific mashups affords insights previously inaccessible to reseachers, clinicians and others interested in the diagnosis and/or treatment of oncology.

We’ll get Dan’s takes on his piece and see how he sees the confluence of these trends coming together for the benefits of patients.

To listen live or via archived replay, click here.

The Advent of Cancer Immunotherapy: Addressing Unmet Needs Part 1


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By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

The following is provided via the video series at the American Journal of Managed Care on ‘The Advent of Cancer Immunotherapy’, part 1 of a 3 part series:


In a discussion moderated by Dr. Peter Salgo, Drs. Jeffrey Weber, Michael Kolodziej, and Daniel J. George share their insights and perspectives on the rise of cancer immunotherapy, and its significance during a time in which cancer is recognized as the “new global pandemic” that has killed more than 600,000 US persons in 2012 alone.


For original source link, click here.

Crowds Care for Cancer Challenge: Supporting Survivors the Finalists


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By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

Last month in a continuing commitment to advance the art and science of patient engagement in health the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) teamed up with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) partnering with Health 2.0 Challenge and the Medstartr crowd funding platforms to field an innovative challenge on creating applications for the estimated 14 million cancer survivors in the United States.

Journey Forward: My Care Plan

For complete program details on the the ‘Crowds Care for Cancer: Supporting Survivors‘ challenge click here, and for the finalists now in the crowd funding optimization stage see the Medstartr finalists feature page here.

On This Week in Oncology, we chat with each of the three finalists in the competition, beginning with Journey Forward: My Care Plan, a project by Tiffany Devitt.

On Thursday, June 27th, 2013 at 1:30PM Pacific/4:30PM Eastern to join us live (or for an archived replay) with Patti Ganz, MD of the Journey Forward: My Care Plan team, click here.

PatientsWithPowerTogether AppBoth remaining Crowds Care for Cancer: Supporting Survivors Challenge finalists are scheduled as follows:

PatientWithPower: A project by PatientsWithPower | 11AM Pacific/2PM Eastern Friday, June 28th, 2013. For live or archived replay, click here.

Together: A project by Michelle Longmire | 11AM Pacific/2PM Eastern Tuesday, July 2nd 2013. For live or archived replay, click here

Please review each of the candidates in this important challenge and show your support accordingly. The leader board to date is as follows: PatientsWithPower, Journey Forward: My Care Plan followed by Together.


Tumor Board: Is There Value in Multidisciplinary Case Consideration?


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By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

When the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer picked up the accreditation football and in the spirit of the then Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals ‘Joint Commission‘ began the promulgation of specific standards for the accreditation of aspiring ‘cancer programs’, at the center of this consideration was the multidisciplinary cancer conference also known as ‘tumor board.’tumor board

Via these standards there were both structural and certain process considerations to meet, but the underlying assumption or zeitgeist of the value proposition – better cancer care – was that ‘multidisciplinary’ engagement of cancer specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients would produce superior outcomes.

Then in October of 2012 Keating et al published a study titled: ‘Tumor Boards and the Quality of Cancer Care’. While somewhat dated (interval 2001-2004), and not generally representative of community oncology practices per se (the sample was sourced in the Veteran’s Health System), the conclusions are none-the-less a compelling call to objectively demonstrate long held assumptions of the benefits of tumor board ‘collaboration’.

The background context for the study was noted as follows:

Despite the widespread use of tumor boards, few data on their effects on cancer care exist. We assessed whether the presence of a tumor board, either general or cancer specific, was associated with recommended cancer care, outcomes, or use in the Veterans Affairs (VA) health system.

While Keating et al concluded as follows:

We observed little association of multidisciplinary tumor boards with measures of use, quality, or survival. This may reflect no effect or an effect that varies by structural and functional components and participants’ expertise.

Following publication a series of pieces appeared in the professional press with eye catching headlines such as:

Tumor Boards May Not Really Impact Cancer Care‘, and ‘Little association of multidisciplinary tumor boards with effects on cancer care‘, but the title that grabbed our attention was an opinion piece in response to the Keating study offered by Douglas W. Blayney, MD, Stanford Cancer Institute, Stanford School of Medicine, titled: ‘Tumor Boards (team Huddles) Aren’t Enough to Reach the Goal‘.

Blayney details his reasoning and observation while cautioning against the potential ‘knee jerk’ over reaction by some to the Keating conclusions and ‘market aftermath’ as follows:

Tumor boards have too long a history for them to be easily
abandoned. Much like the “hurry-up” offense changed the conduct of huddles in football, tumor boards should also adapt to the changing times and technology. In the system studied by Keating et al. (1), there are only huddles and no feedback loop. Their measurement work provides a reason to change tumor board conduct.

On This Week in Oncology, May 22nd, 2013 at 2PM Pacific/5PM Eastern Dr. Blayney is our very special guest. We’ll dive deeper into his thought process, rationale and recommendations to tweak the tumor board formula via technology and other process adds, to perhaps better align this important multi-disciplinary experience with improved patient outcomes.

‘You Don’t Know Jack’ by Morgan Spurlock


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By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

But you should! Get to know him here:

Earlier today we just finished chatting with Jack Andraka on This Week In Oncology. One of my favorite lines from the conversation is quoted below, Jack refers to the high school biology class as the:

absolute stifler of innovation

From which he none-the-less associates inspiration for his scientific inquiry. Suffice it to say, Jack was neither encouraged nor challenged by the curriculum, and found other ways to engage his mind and curiousity.

@IBMwatson and the Future of Oncology Care


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By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

Another of the highlights of FutureMed 2013 was the track on ‘the future of oncology’. In addition to the promise of favorably impacting both the early diagnosis and thus treatment outcomes for pancreatic cancer via the discovery of Jack Andraka, Ronald Levy, MD of Stanford wove a beautiful narrative of hope and promise that might best be represented by the following quote:

My dream is to get rid of chemotherapy and do it with the immune system..

Dr. Levy’s concluding slide outlined the visioned future for oncology:

The Future of Oncology Care

Meanwhile one could not be but immensely inspired by the clinical decision support and powerful AI platform demonstration detailed by Marty Cohn, MD. Witness ‘IBM Watson Demo: Oncology Diagnosis and Treatment’ developed in conjunction with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center:

Meet Jack Andraka: Mathematician, Scientist, Cancer Researcher

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

Last week FutureMed at Singularity University on the campus of NASA Ames in Mountain View, California ran it’s week long intensive for 2013. This year It’s executive director and principal organizer, Daniel Kraft, MD gave the cyberspace crowd a full day’s taste of the program on Tuesday, February, 5th. For the agenda including links to faculty, click here.FutureMed 2013

Of the many powerful and stimulating presentations one in particular stands out as offered by 16 year old scientist, and winner of the 2012 Intel National Science Fair Jack Andraka. For a taste of Jack’s entusiasm, passion and intellect check out the video below:

We are thrilled that Jack will be joining us on ‘This Week In Oncology‘ on February 20, 2013 to learn more about this remarkable young man and discuss his journey into science and making a difference. We’ll post the details and program description shortly.

For additional insight on Jack, see a recent BBC interview below, where he explains his process and determined journey in the face of a serious amount of mainstream academia skepticism:



Biometric Monitoring Systems: A Role for Monitoring & Managing Cancer?


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By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

There is considerable (and growing) attention focused on the emerging role of ‘quantified self’ tools to improve our overall health status, enhance access, improve outcomes while also lowering the total cost of health care. At the recently concluded CES 2013 Conference and Exposition a Forbes article posed the following question:

CES 2013: The Year of The Quantified Self?

If you’ve not heard of the ‘Quantified Self‘ movement you will. Their website is chock full of information and health apps for the curious and motivated. The recent blog post: Future Normal: Quantified Self Tools at the Apple Store hints at the new normal now in sight. Or as overheard several times on the Silicon Valley circuit for at least the last three years and oft credited to William Gibson:

The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet

So in this entrepreneurial frenzy and resultant sea of digital health apps all chasing the holy grail to define and manifest a healthier America, much attention has rightfully focused on the capture, reporting and sharing of meaningful biometric data to maintain health, improve health literacy, better inform doctor/patient communications and ultimately support improved health outcomes.

Against this background, now ponder the following xPrize-esque(?) question:

Imagine if you could have a conversation with your body on a cellular level. What if you asked your cells, how am I really doing? Am I healthy? Is my treatment working? Is there anything I could be doing better?

And consider the following reply:

‘The Vitality Analyzer, an FDA approved Class II over-the-counter medical device that electrically measures your health, is a simple tool that helps you answer those questions. Based on well established technology, the Vitality Analyzer measures your health collecting information about your body’s cells and then translates it to a numeric score; your Vitality Index a global health indicator.’This Week in Oncology on the BlogTalk Radio Network | @justOncology

Sound interesting, if not a bit of an over the top claim to make? it did to me. So on the Wednesday, January 30th 2013 broadcast of ‘This Week in Oncology‘ we’ll chat with the inventor Michaeal Singer and dive deeper into the peer reviewed science supporting the ‘well established technology’ cited above.

To state the obvious, at least from the point of view of cancer patients wondering what is happening at the cellular level minimally in between those routine or non-routine follow-up visits to the oncologist, if this metric can reliability report on the underlying state of health or to the contrary tumor pathogenesis, this is the kind of ‘biomarker’ information most cancer patients would want to have.