Q&A: ATS Executive Director Stephen C. Crane

An interview with Stephen C. Crane, PhD, MPH, Executive Director of the ATS

An interview with Stephen C. Crane, PhD, MPH, Executive Director of the ATS

Q: Medical societies have come a long way from their origins as guilds seeking to control and enhance their area of practice. How has the ATS distinguished itself in this respect?
A: Historically, one role of the ATS and other medical societies was to disseminate knowledge through journals and conferences to their members. Today, however, given the wealth of information available and the limited amount of time for clinicians and scientists, societies are depended upon also to prioritize and interpret the knowledge for their members, other clinicians, as well as patients.

The ATS has led the field in fulfilling this demand by producing guidelines, statements, and other official documents that systematically analyze and synthesize an immense amount of information regarding a particular disease or treatment into specific and measurable recommendations that a clinician can actually follow. This greatly increases the quality of practice through standardization of care. Some societies may produce two or three of these a year. Since 2011, the ATS has produced 25 guidelines, statements, and other documents, many of which were developed collaboratively with our sister societies.

We’re becoming increasingly focused on how to take these guidelines and statements off the shelf, put them to practice, and then measure the impact they have on patient care, which is the implementation initiative that ATS 2012-13 President Monica Kraft, MD, began during her term.

We’re also a leader in offering continuing medical education opportunities. Through the annual International Conference, ATS journals, and webcasts, we enable clinicians to maintain their levels of practice proficiency.

The Society has launched adult core curricula in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine as well as a pediatric core curriculum in pulmonary medicine at ATS 2013. The adult pulmonary, critical care, and sleep modules have been approved by the American Board of Internal Medicine for a total of 34 Maintenance of Certification Part II points. The pediatric module has been approved by the American Board of Pediatrics for for a total of 10 Maintenance of Certification Part II credits.

We’ve also partnered with National Jewish Health® to provide Nursing Contact Hours for selected sessions.

Our reach also is international. ATS assists physicians and other health care professionals in Latin America, Africa, India, and Turkey through our Methods in Epidemiologic, Clinical, and Operations Research program. The ATS is truly pushing the bounds further and accomplishing far more than a traditional, insular, and self-interested guild.

Q: With technological advances and better connectivity, researchers and clinicians place a premium on immediacy. How is the ATS keeping up with this demand and staying relevant? 
A: As I mentioned before, the ATS produces a number of guidelines, statements, and other official documents. To aid in their development, the Society created a brand-new staff position and welcomed Kevin C. Wilson, MD, as the new senior director, documents and medical affairs. Dr. Wilson provides expertise and guidance to authors to meet the Society’s rigorous methodological standards and, in concert with the ATS methodologist, directs the official documents peer review process, develops efficient strategies for document dissemination and implementation, and serves as an international ATS representative in the guidelines field.

Dr. Wilson and the Documents Development and Implementation Committee have already made great headway in refining the development, review, and approval processes of guidelines and other official documents, which has resulted in a more efficient system and quicker delivery of clinical information for end-users.

Also, because of the determined efforts of the ATS journals’ editorial teams and staff, publication lag time for manuscripts in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine has been reduced to 1.8 months, and the American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology has been reduced to 2.7 months.

Q: Speaking of ATS journals, early spring saw the relaunch of the Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society as Annals of the American Thoracic Society as well as the redesign of ATSJournals.org.
A: In addition to cutting down delivery time, the ATS is always thinking of better ways to distribute information to relevant communities. AnnalsATS expanded the former Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society’s focus on scholarly information relevant to clinicians. Editor-in-Chief John Hansen-Flaschen has done a tremendous job at the helm of the bimonthly journal, and we’re incredibly pleased with the direction that the White Journal has taken in fulfilling the needs of our members.

Similarly, the ATSJournals.org relaunch was in response to our members’ needs. It features an intuitive interface and integrates searches across clinical and scientific specialties. We also recognized the shift in reading habits and optimized the website for mobile readers. Other publishers are rushing to do the same, but we’re ahead of the curve.

The ATS journals team has just released a brand new app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. These are exciting times, indeed!

Q: Medical societies have been taking on an increasingly public-oriented role. How has the ATS fulfilled its obligation to patients? 
A: The ATS recognized its duty to involve patients in its educational, research, patient care, and advocacy goals, and created the ATS Public Advisory Roundtable, which consists of organizations that represent persons affected by respiratory diseases, sleep-related conditions, or related critical illnesses. Furthermore, in recent years, the Patient and Family Education Committee, in concert with the associate Web editor for patient education, has produced a wide range of patient-friendly lung disease materials, named the Patient Information Series, available on the ATS website and published in the AJRCCM.

Patients not only speak in our International Conference sessions, they sit on our board and our committees year-round and have a right of full membership similar to physicians. The patient voice is also highlighted in the year-long Lung Disease Week at the ATS series, which includes free patient and expert information and live webinars.

Q: The ATS prides itself on its presence in Washington, D.C. Why should we be impressed? 
A: Unlike other organizations in respiratory, sleep, and critical care medicine, the ATS is empowered by the combination of our influential members, patients, and dedicated staff in Washington, D.C., to effect change in federal policy and resource allocation to further our mission of improving lung health worldwide. Shining examples include the annual Hill Day and World TB Day in late March as well as our testimony before Congressional committees. This year, we spoke with members of Congress on research funding, tobacco control, and a permanent fix to the Medicare sustainable growth rate formula—all issues of great importance not only to our members, but to public health in general. Members can find weekly news of our efforts in the Washington Letter as well as in the monthly ATS News.

Q: How has the availability of fewer resources influenced the way medical societies interact with one another?
A: This has created much more cooperative behavior between the ATS and similar associations simply because there are too few resources in the system to work independently as we once did. The ATS along with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, the American College of Chest Physicians, and the Society of Critical Care Medicine have formed the Critical Care Societies Collaborative. Rather than duplicate our efforts, the CCSC creates a unified and powerful voice that has a bigger impact on care and common issues nationwide.

On the international level, the ATS is a member of the Forum of International Respiratory Societies with the Asociacion Latinoamericana del Thorax, ACCP, Asia Pacific Society of Respirology, European Respiratory Society, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, and Pan African Thoracic Society. Health problems and clinical practices vary around the world, but the common thread is advancing our knowledge and identifying the common elements that cut across systems of care.