AANS enters 'exciting era' as neurosurgery rapidly evolves

Spine Leaders

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons has exciting changes planned for the next year to expand, better serve membership and transition senior leadership.

Kathleen Craig exited the American Association of Neurological Surgeons Dec. 31 after seven years as CEO to pursue new opportunities. Ann R. Stroink, MD, was named the executive vice president and interim CEO to seek a permanent replacement alongside AANS President Anthony L. Asher, MD, and the executive committee.

The transition occurred after a year of strategic planning for AANS leadership, who aim to expand and elevate services for members and stakeholders.

"The practice of neurosurgery is rapidly evolving in the U.S. and worldwide. As a consequence, we are going through an expansive renewal with what we need to do to meet the needs of our membership," said Dr. Stroink. "The AANS aims to support individuals across the entire spectrum, from medical students to retired neurosurgeons by offering access to member benefits and educational products throughout their professional careers."

AANS also plans to expand recruiting efforts to encourage more physicians from diverse backgrounds to enter the specialty, and support them throughout their careers.

"Neurosurgeons should adequately reflect the population of the patients that we serve," Dr. Stroink said.

The support will hit several facets of the neurosurgeons career, including clinical practice, access to care and research. Many AANS members donate to the association's education foundation, which gives seed money to clinical investigators and scientists to expand their work in neurosurgery care. AANS also has the Journal of Neurological Surgery to promote scientific work and give a broader forum for deep information exchange to surgeons.

Access to care is one area AANS will focus on, as only 10% of patients who suffer ischemic stroke globally receive appropriate care due to a shortage of clinicians and adequate resources. The problem can't be fixed overnight, but AANS is taking clear steps for change at the macro level to provide training and connecting leaders who want to solve the access to care issues at a macro level.

"Advocacy is an elemental part of the AANS," said Dr. Stroink, who is also the immediate past president of AANS. "To ensure quality care for our patients, advocating on their behalf is essential. This involves not only navigating challenges with insurance companies and overcoming obstacles like prior authorizations that restrict access to proper care. Currently, care is facing delays, and patients in the U.S. are experiencing the impact of this situation."

AANS leadership is also embracing the association's obligations to boost public health by sharing information about illnesses and preparing for neurological surgery.

“It’s manifest that societal health in the information age is largely dependent on the maintenance of the cognitive, psychological, mobility and communication health of its citizens, and that society, in turn — particularly a society that is creating technological innovation at breathtaking speed — exerts profound effects back on human neurophysiology,” said Dr. Asher. “Given those realities, along with the fact that neurological conditions are the leading cause of global disability, it is entirely logical to conclude that we as neuro-clinicians, as neuroscientists, and as thoughtful, caring professionals who have dedicated ourselves to the art and science of medicine, have as much and likely far greater potential to improve, and preserve, the health and well-being of individuals, and of society, as any of its citizens. That’s simultaneously a tremendous opportunity, and an awesome responsibility.”

AANS aims to move quickly to communicate broad changes based on the new strategic plan at the Annual Meeting, May 3-6 in Chicago. One of the big changes is around data; AANS' data programs represent a multitude of cooperative research programs and serve as a model for more research and value-based care going forward. Like many other specialties, neurological surgery will benefit from increased data, algorithms, large language models and evidence-based medicine.

"The current methods to produce evidence-guided practice can't be scaled to evolving practice environments," said Dr. Asher. "With surgical technologies changing rapidly, the de facto standards of care can shift overnight. We simply need better methods to produce the high-level evidence needed to intelligently modify the standards of care very rapidly. We are looking at all stakeholders and partners that we need to work with, including groups that are providing better forms of generative AI. We have been dedicated to innovation in clinical data and outcomes research for many years that can and will lead the necessary change."

AANS is also leaning into value-based care. Clinician shortages and rising costs have put pressure on the traditional fee-for-service environment to accelerate the value-based care transition, and it will be essential for neurosurgeons to keep up.

"We need to lead the way with high-quality information sources necessary for us to intelligently and responsibly participate in the creation of a sustainable healthcare system," said Dr. Asher. "We are specifically looking at combining claims data with the abundant long-term clinical outcomes data we have accumulated over the last decade to more objectively address the value paradigm. This project is an example of very high impact and eminently scalable methods that we can use to empower members in their communities and beyond."

While a lot of change is coming, the 92-year-old AANS will still celebrate the tradition it was built on as an organization founded by one of the first neurosurgeons in the U.S., Dr. Harvey Cushing.

"We are celebrating our roots, but also recognizing the world and our specialty are changing dramatically, and the pace of change is stunning," said Dr. Asher. "We stand at the threshold of an exciting era for the AANS and our specialty, and we are poised to make even greater strides in advancing the field of neurosurgery for the betterment of our members, our patients. and all other stakeholders who are served by our essential mission. We plan to accomplish those objectives by respecting our traditions, while simultaneously adopting novel processes to help us better navigate, and add value to the complex ecosystem of modern healthcare, and modern neurosurgery.”

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