President's Column: Listening to Our Members

Sean C. Grondin, MD, MPH, FRCSC

STS News, Summer 2021 — In mid-June, STS hosted its first Town Hall webinar during which Society leaders listened to key issues of concern to our members.  

In addition to this new forum for member feedback, we also look very closely at direct communications sent to Society leaders and results from our member needs assessment, which we disseminate every 3 years; the most recent survey closed on July 1. 

Based on this feedback, the STS Board prioritizes efforts and responds to areas of need. In this column, I will highlight broadly the top five priorities identified by STS members, and describe the initiatives that STS leadership currently is undertaking to address these concerns.

Improving Quality of Care for Our Patients

STS has an award-winning, internationally recognized quality improvement registry. Keeping the STS National Database the gold standard of clinical outcomes registries remains a top priority. 

We also are driving new quality initiatives as a founding member and the only CT surgery organization in the Surgical Care Coalition (SCC). Comprising 12 surgical professional associations, including the American College of Surgeons and Society of Vascular Surgeons, this group represents more than 150,000 surgeons in America and the patients they serve. Ongoing, key initiatives include active lobbying for maintaining and expanding access to necessary surgical procedures for patients, as well as addressing the surgeon workforce shortage. Furthermore, STS—separately and as part of the coalition—has undertaken initiatives to streamline preauthorization for surgical treatments and protect patients from unanticipated medical bills.

Championing Fair Reimbursement

In 2020, STS was successful in halting, at least temporarily, proposed cuts to Medicare reimbursements for CT surgery. With these reimbursement cuts now planned for January 2022, STS is focusing efforts toward not only encouraging Congress and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to stop reductions in Medicare physician payments, but instead provide a modest increase in Medicare reimbursements. As well, we are working with our SCC partners on initiatives that encourage congressional leaders to establish a revised payment system compatible with the current health care environment and ensure that 10- and 90-day global codes are adjusted to reflect the increased payments for postoperative and evaluation management services. 

Ensuring CT Surgeons Are Essential Leaders of the Care Team

As new technologies to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of our patients are developed and implemented, it is imperative that surgeons remain essential leaders of the care team. As such, STS has increased its education offerings and content delivery to encourage continuous learning throughout the year. Currently, STS members can access journal club webinars, wellness sessions and roundtables, online curricula, and virtual conferences, as well as dedicated leadership skill development seminars. 

STS also has completed the much anticipated Cardiothoracic Surgery E-Book, which includes Pearson’s Thoracic. The e-book is the most complete and authoritative online resource for CT surgery in the world. Accessible online and from mobile platforms 24/7/365, this continuously updated multimedia textbook brings together 600 leading international surgeon authors in more than 300 interactive chapters covering all main CT surgery domains.

In addition to assisting members with expanded educational programs, the Society has partnered with other organizations to deliver innovative, multidisciplinary educational content for all career stages. For example, STS now funds and manages a national resident boot camp in conjunction with the Thoracic Surgery Directors Association and the Thoracic Surgery Residents Association, ensuring that trainees have access to the latest technologies taught by world leaders. 

STS also is committed to partnering with non-surgical organizations such as the American College of Cardiology (ACC) to develop collaborative initiatives like coauthoring influential clinical practice guidelines. In doing so, STS leaders and members provide important input and perspectives on the management of CT patients. Another STS/ACC joint activity is the CMS-approved Transcatheter Valve Therapy (TVT) Registry. This state-of-the-art database monitors patient safety and real-world outcomes related to transcatheter valve replacement and repair procedures and also helps guide emerging treatments for valve disease patients using precise scientific data.  

Supporting Surgeon Wellness

Surgeon burnout is recognized as a serious problem that may have significant personal and professional consequences. STS leadership has heard from its members that one of the major sources of physician burnout is frustration with time-consuming administrative tasks related to meeting regulatory requirements that do not add value to patient care or outcomes. 

To support the mental and physical wellbeing of CT surgeons and increase access to mental health services for physicians, trainees, and other health care team members, the SCC is lobbying policymakers to implement the “Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act.” The Society also has created a dedicated Task Force on Wellness led by Dr. Michael Maddaus. This group has been busy expanding current STS resources such as the recent webinar and new podcast series on resilience, launching a new podcast series (see page 2), and developing focused content on physician wellness—a topic that also will play an important role at the upcoming STS Annual Meeting. 

Programs such as the STS Mentorship Program and the STS Leadership Series also are important resources designed to support the growth and wellbeing of future generations of cardiothoracic surgeons.

Wanting to Interact in Person Again

Many STS members have communicated that they want our annual meetings to not only deliver relevant educational content, but also provide opportunities to safely network with colleagues and industry partners in person again. 

To accomplish this, the STS Annual Meeting Planning Committee led by Dr. John Mitchell is working hard to deliver an exceptional in-person meeting at the newly renovated conference center in Miami Beach, Florida, January 29-31, 2022. At this time, STS also is exploring platforms to simultaneously offer a virtual meeting component for those who are unable to travel and join us in person. 

Please note the deadline for submitting abstracts for STS 2022 is August 3, 3021. Additional meeting information available at sts.org/annualmeeting.

I look forward to seeing you there.