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The Front Line
The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair

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SWOG 101: Our Operations Office

Mar 27, 2015 - SWOG is a distributed organization, not just in terms of membership, but in the offices enabling it to function -- Operations in San Antonio, Statistics in Seattle, Hope Foundation in Ann Arbor, Group Chair in Portland, and so on. I try to visit the former three at least a couple of times a year, to stay in touch with all our components, colleagues, and staff. Though we're in contact almost continuously by email, phone, text message, or videoconference, face-to-face meetings cement working relationships and allow us to handle certain situations and conduct business more efficiently.

This past week I visited our Operations Office, which gave me a chance to hunker down for an afternoon with senior staff leadership -- Chief of Administration Nathan Eriksen (who flew in from Michigan) and Director of Operations and Protocols Dana Sparks, who recently marked her 25th anniversary with SWOG (congratulations, Dana, and thank you). We revisited a number of Board of Governors policies that may need updating, such as our elections policy; engaged in planning for the upcoming San Francisco meeting and beyond; and talked quite a bit about the Group in general.

Being there in the flesh also reminded me how hard our Protocol Coordinators and other Ops staff work, to build and operate our clinical studies. So as my latest installment in the SWOG 101 curriculum, I am highlighting some of the operations of our Operations Office over the last year.

Protocol Development and Coordination
Our protocol development team assembled and activated 11 new SWOG-led protocols in 2014. These 11 included the first trial funded exclusively via SWOG-CTI (S1222), as well as the Lung-MAP study (Master Protocol-S1400), which of course comprises multiple sub-studies.

Quality Assurance
In 2014, our Quality Assurance team conducted 90 routine audits during 52 separate site visits, developing and implementing special monitoring plans for several unique trials (including the S1400 Lung-MAP master protocol mentioned above). If we want rock-solid data, a high-Q QA team is indispensible.

Membership Programs
With the rollout of the new NCTN and NCORP structures, 2014 was a particularly busy year for our membership team, implementing new membership classes and transferring more than 100 institutions to a different membership category, while also adding roughly 600 new investigators and twice that number of support staff to our roster.

Meetings Management
Planning our semiannual group meetings in Chicago and San Francisco presents considerable logistical challenges, and in 2014 these were intensified by multiple additions to the meeting schedules. We also issued a request for proposals for new hotel contracts for future meetings, locking down the Hyatts we know and love in Chicago and San Francisco. On a side note, Ops negotiated spectacular deals for us.

Learning Management
Our 2014 Young Investigators Training Course was the first course to be completed by participants using our new online tools for presentations, quizzes, and final certification. We also added new learning modules for investigational agent handling, specimen submission, research ethics, and protocol development.

Information Systems
IT is the web that holds all of this together, and maintaining and upgrading that technology is a critical infrastructure function within the Operations office. Specific upgrades in 2014 included a virtual private network (VPN) that allows our auditors on the road secure access to the network drives back in San Antonio, and an upgrade of our Operations servers' Internet link to a 20 Gbps fiber optic connection.

Though only one component in an integrated organization, our Operations Office exemplifies the commitment, skill, and professionalism I find each and every time I visit one of our constituent offices. I remain really proud of SWOG staff.


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