Hashem B. El-Serag, MD, gastroenterology chair at Houston-based Baylor College of Medicine, became the 114th president of the American Gastroenterological Association Institute at Digestive Disease Week 2019, May 18-21 in San Diego.
An avid researcher and a past Clinical Gastroenterology & Hepatology editor-in-chief, Dr. El-Serag discussed the goals for his term and his vision for the AGA.
Note: Responses were edited for style and clarity.
Question: Do you have any goals for your term as president?
Dr. Hashem El-Serag: I believe that the role of president is to carry [on] AGA's strategic mission of empowering clinicians and researchers to improve digestive health. I also look forward to participating in fundraising, political activism and working with other professional societies to forge win-win collaborations.
AGA must [also] solidify our position as the most trusted source for unbiased information, scientific collaboration, research funding, and support for clinical care and public advocacy for digestive diseases and wellness.
Q: Several past presidents have focused on closing the colonoscopy loophole. What can you bring to this issue and where do you think the Institute is, legislatively speaking?
HE: AGA was the first group to recognize the colonoscopy loophole. We have worked to educate Congress on the issue, and our work continues, both legislative and regulatory-speaking.
The issue has widespread support in Congress on both sides of the aisle and in both legislative chambers. AGA helped to secure 254 co-sponsors in the House and 49 co-sponsors in the Senate [of a proposal that addresses the loophole].
Legislators understand that screening colonoscopy has saved lives and has prevented cancer. [Legislative efforts are progressing as] Congress and the [Trump] administration are working to address the issue of "surprise billing" for patients. We have long argued that the colonoscopy loophole is a surprise bill and we need to remove that burden for patients.
Many private insurers see the benefit [of screening colonoscopy] and waive the cost-sharing for patients [when polyps are detected and removed]. Medicare needs to do the same, and we are hopeful that this will be the year we fix this surprise bill for Medicare patients.
Q: What's a resonating message you'd like gastroenterologists to hear as you begin your term?
HE: AGA has a vision for the future that is bigger than our organization. We are working toward a world free of digestive disease. [We want] to help patients with digestive diseases receive the best care possible.
AGA serves clinicians, clinical researchers and basic scientists by: providing resources to support patient care; supporting young investigators who will help discover the cures of tomorrow; publishing the best basic and clinical research in our journals; advocating for policies that support research funding and patient access to care; supporting innovation in the field; providing resources for managing clinical practices; running registries; and developing clinical guidance and education to optimize patient outcomes.
Our journals portfolio includes Gastroenterology, the leading journal of the field; Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the most well-read journal by clinicians; and Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology, our newest publication providing the most impactful digestive biology research.
Our research grant awards program includes clinical, translational and basic research [grants], for both specific projects and for career development of promising junior investigators.
Also, our members provide a great network of support to one another — and we have a lot of fun when we gather at Digestive Disease Week, the Crohn's and Colitis Congress and at smaller educational events throughout the year. We would encourage anyone in the field of digestive health and disease to join AGA, and [we] encourage those who are already members to engage in leadership participation.