In September 2012, the Joint Commission recognized 620 hospitals (about 18% of the total number of accredited American hospitals) as “top performers,” but many were surprised when some of the biggest names in academic medical centers failed to make the cut. Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Cleveland Clinic (perennial winners in the US News & World Report best hospital competition) did not qualify when the Joint Commission based their ranking not on reputation but on specific actions that “add up to millions of opportunities ‘to provide the right care to the patients at American hospitals.’”
The gap between the perceived reputation of America’s “best” hospitals and medical schools and their performance on an evidence-based medicine report card provides an interesting lens through which to understand the role and performance of America’s academic medical centers in the 21stcentury.
The most pressing challenge for American medicine has been summarized in the triple aim: how to cut the per-capita cost of healthcare, how to increase the quality and experience of the care for the patient, and how to improve the health and wellness of specific populations.
Can we expect academic medical centers to lead the country in meeting the challenge? If history is any guide, the answer may be no. In a 2001 article titled “Improving the Quality of Health Care: Who Will Lead?” the authors write:
“We see few signs that academic medical leaders are prepared to expend much effect on health care issues outside the realms of biomedical research and medical education. They exerted little leadership in what may arguably be characterized as the most important health policy debates of the past thirty years: tobacco control, health care cost containment, and universal access.”
Having been a professor at several medical schools (UCSF, University of Iowa, Allegheny University of the Health Sciences, and Michigan State), I learned early on that the key to academic advancement was NIH funded basic science research. While lip service was paid to the ideal triple threat professor (great clinician, superb teacher, and peer reviewed published investigator), the results of the tenure process clearly resulted in a culture where funded research counted far more than teaching and clinical care delivery.