On Balance, Robert A. Wynbrandt, Executive Director & General Counsel

STS News, Winter 2012 -- With thanks to staff directors Nancy Puckett, Damon Marquis, and Phil Bongiorno, we interrupt the series of guest columns recently appearing in this space to reflect on the year that was, and to take a look at some of what lies ahead for the Society in 2012.

In his President’s message (see p. 2), Mike Mack correctly notes that the introduction of transcatheter valve therapy into the United States has yielded a transformational year for the Society. This phenomenon touched virtually every sphere of STS activity, from education (with three TAVR symposia conducted in 2011 and three planned in conjunction with the American College of Cardiology for 2012) to research (see p. 1 for a description of the new STS/ACC TVT Registry) to advocacy (ranging from Mike’s testimony before an FDA panel in Washington on July 20 to the currently pending application for a CMS National Coverage Determination, both efforts undertaken in concert with the ACC).

While all of these efforts have been truly impressive – from a variety of perspectives – what is most striking to me about the year just ended is how the entire STS infrastructure, involving hundreds of volunteer leaders and a highly dedicated staff, not only kept the trains running on time during this period of transformation and intensive activity, but also managed to introduce many innovations along the way. Trains ran on time as we again increased participation in the STS National Database, introduced international participation to the STS National Database, substantially increased the number of participants in our public reporting initiatives and conducted a series of successful “standard” meetings, including the 2011 Advocacy Workshop in September, the AQO conference in October (see p. 10) and the Coding Workshop in November. Space limitations do not allow me to list all or even most of the STS innovations in 2011, but just a few included the LVAD Think Tank held in Washington on Sept. 16, the launch of a web-based Coding Help Desk, expansion of STS Associate Membership to include other physicians who work closely with cardiothoracic surgeons, and the Board of Directors’ adoption of a new STS strategic plan, leading to the establishment of the STS Research Center under the direction of Fred Edwards (notably the first surgeon member of the Society’s staff).

And 2012 promises even more new initiatives for this dynamic organization. For example, STS has been selected by the FDA as one of three organizations that will take part in a novel “Network of Experts” pilot project aimed at facilitating the agency’s ability to tap real-world clinical expertise in order to help inform its decision making – here as it relates to devices used in cardiothoracic surgery. We also will be rolling out a new module for the Adult Cardiac Surgery Database addressing the surgical treatment of atrial fibrillation; a new VAD symposium (see p. 9); and a new collaboration with patient support groups Mended Hearts and Mended Little Hearts (be sure to stop by their booth in the Exhibit Hall at the Annual Meeting).

Robert Guyton memorably commented at the close of his presidential term eight years ago that STS was not just about the Annual Meeting anymore. While it should be underscored that we do have a very special Annual Meeting in store for you in Fort Lauderdale, as described throughout these pages of STS News, Robert’s observation remains accurate today. In a year that was transformational for both the Society and for much of the specialty (e.g., see Vinay Badhwar’s discussion of surgeon employment trends on p. 7), present-day STS activity, well beyond the critical developments in transcatheter valve technology this past year, continues to expand and flourish. Thanks in large measure to all of you and your contributions to the Society, yours is an organization that can respond effectively to a “disruptive technology” and continue to deliver on all facets of its core mission: to enhance your ability to provide the highest quality patient care through education, research, and advocacy.

We will return to our regularly scheduled programming with additional guest columns from our staff directors in the year ahead. In the meantime, on behalf of the entire STS staff, all the best to you and yours for good health and happiness in 2012.

P.S. I cannot close without noting that this edition of STS News marks its final installment under the supervision of Nancy Gray Puckett, the Society’s first Director of Marketing and Communications, who will be leaving our staff following the Annual Meeting. Nancy has brought innovation and creativity to these pages, and to much of what we do, over the course of the past nine years; she will be missed.