In part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s AGA Presidential Plenary took a different approach, covering a wide array of clinical topics that have been top of mind for AGA members this year, said current AGA President Bishr Omary, MD, PhD, AGAF, of Rutgers University.
“We reviewed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, not just on the world, but also on the gastrointestinal community at large, whether it’s a physician taking care of patients or an investigator studying mechanisms or therapies of GI disease,” said Dr. Omary. “We also covered some of the ‘silver linings’ of the pandemic, for instance how telemedicine has taken off in a way that no one would have predicted.”
Dr. Omary cited several important milestones set by the AGA in helping members keep pace with clinical and research challenges prompted by the pandemic. This included the rapid deployment of updated practice guidelines; financial support for researchers, including $2.5 million distributed among 45 investigators; the launch of numerous online education resources, including a COVID website and a weekly webinar series; and tremendous advocacy efforts.
During his plenary, he also highlighted AGA’s efforts to address equity in the digestive disease field, which dovetails with the clear need to focus on health disparities arising from the pandemic and its disproportionate toll on communities of color and underserved populations. These efforts are encompassed in the AGA Equity Project that began in June 2020 and is projected to continue for several years.
In terms of advocacy efforts, Dr. Omary stressed that through this tumultuous year, AGA has continued to advocate for its members and patients by supporting the protection of telemedicine in terms of payment and parity; advocating for enhanced federal support of research labs, many of which were shut or ramped down during the pandemic; addressing step therapy (also known as “first fail” therapy); and the closing the colonoscopy screening “loophole” of coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Dr. Omary ended his presentation by honoring the recipients of AGA’s prestigious Friedenwald Medal: the 2020 recipient was Gail Hecht, MD, MS, AGAF; and the 2021 award went to Michael Camilleri, MD, AGAF.
Dr. Omary’s presidential address took place on Friday, May 21, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. EDT, as part of the session “AGA Presidential Plenary.”