Chair’s Message

Greetings to all ASSFN members. It is my privilege to provide an update on the state and on goings of our vibrant society. The executive council (myself, Joe Neimat (VP) and Andre Machado (Sec-Treasurer) along with entire Board of Directors, met during the Congress of Neurological Surgeons Annual Meeting. I should mention that our specialty played a large role in this meeting, in large measure due to the tireless and passionate efforts of Nader Pouratian, MD, PhD, FAANS, who was the chair of the Scientific Program Committee. He did a fantastic job and I’m sure you will join me in congratulating him.

In this newsletter, you will see updates from committee chairs and notes of their progress in advancing the mission of ASSFN. We have a Board that is unmatched in its passion, dedication and energy in the pursuit of advancing the cause of our patients and our specialty. This can be seen in their accomplishments, but I wish to point out a few of the milestones we have reached.

First, the financial health of our society is stronger than ever. This brings with it opportunity and responsibility. With regard to the latter, we have a responsibility to both maintain our health and to increase it. Several years ago, we commissioned a few people with some experience – or connection to others more experienced – to explore what would be the best investment policy to both secure and enlarge our resources (in particular, Ron Alterman and Josh Rosenow). I am happy to report that the board approved a financial plan that will accomplish those goals – a mixed investment portfolio that both protects against loss and gives a conservative opportunity for growth and one that mirrors to some degree the approach of our larger societies. The second aspect is, of course, the opportunity. We committed to support the CNS Foundation, which has been funding our guidelines initiatives, a critical activity of our society that directly impacts our patients and members. We are progressing with a joint guidelines project with the American Epilepsy Society and the American Academy of Neurology, under the leadership of Jorge Gonzalez-Martinez. In the coming months, we will be exploring other means to use our significant resources to support education and research. We welcome suggestions from our membership on how we should use our resources in the service of our mission.

Along those lines, please read the report from Julie Pilitsis, the chair of the Research, Education and Fellowship committee. Our new mentorship program is entering its second year and is thriving. This program specifically addresses a core mission of our society.

Coding and reimbursement is an important issue for our membership. Josh Rosenow joined our board meeting to discuss initiatives in this area at the national level, including the AANS Coding and Reimbursement committee (of which Jason Schwalb is also a member). Particularly related to epilepsy, there are several codes that are not appropriately ‘vignetted’, such as DBS codes matching movement disorders vignettes, but are being used for responsive neurostimulator and DBS for epilepsy implantations. This is a fraught practice, but one we have no choice in at the present time. Over the next few years, we will be pursuing code 3 designations, and perhaps code 1, for this and other procedures (e.g. laser ablation). Recently we commissioned a new regulatory committee, at present headed by VP Joe Neimat and including the efforts of society members Shabbar Danish and Josh Rosenow to address this and other reimbursement issues.

I would like to bring to your attention a strategic planning initiative that we have just launched. Organizations, such as our society, need to have stability and ballast in their activities, to prevent the tendency to blow about in the wind based on the priorities of the current leadership. This is baked into the DNA of some societies, obviously via their bylaws and even constitutions. For example, the International League Against Epilepsy has a constitution that is stable and bylaws that can be changed, and they have a presidency that is a four-year term, which provides several means for stability. Conversely, some societies have not only a president, but also an Executive Director, who keeps the mission and strategic priorities stable through presidencies. Another mechanism, for all organizations, but especially in the absence of these other stabilizing policies, is to have a strategic plan. A strategic plan: a) contains a strong mission statement; b) is agreed to by the society membership; c) lasts for ~5 years (e.g. 4-6); d) is used to guide the strategic goals and objectives of the society; and e) is revised and reinvigorated at its conclusion. I am happy to report that the Board met for a retreat in August to discuss whether and how to proceed with a strategic planning process and agreed unanimously that this would be an important activity for us to undertake. Towards this end, we signed a contract with Dr. Dorothy Air (Dr. Ellen Air’s mother), to guide us through this process. Dr. Air has years of experience in doing this. She led quite a number of strategic planning processes for various departments/programs in the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and other colleges within the university, as well as for foundations and community non-profit associations. To quote Dr. Air: “In my experience, professional associations and non-profits have unique challenges, but generally have a great deal more potential than is actualized. This represents opportunity.” We are all excited to begin this process, which should be completed in 6-9 months. In fact, as part of the data gathering of all stakeholders, you as society members were all sent a questionnaire on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing our society, and we look forward to learning your thoughts. And prior to any roll out of a strategic plan, you will have an opportunity to provide feedback.

Finally, Guy McKhann, as you can see from this newsletter, has finally migrated us away from a print version and is introducing a robust and accessible online version based on the successful Tumor Section version. I think this will be a great advance for our communication and is in keeping in the digital age! On that note, we are also pursuing initiatives in social media, under the direction of Mark Richardson, including the efforts of younger neurosurgeons who have social media in their genes.

I am very proud to be serving our society as president. I look forward to seeing you at our biennial meeting in Boston on June 20-23, 2020. It promises to be a great meeting, organized of course by our past president Emad Eskandar, and featuring Dr. Dennis Spencer as the Honored Guest.

Robert Gross MD, PhD, FAANS


Robert Gross MD, PhD, FAANS
ASSFN President