September 25, 2014

VUMC well positioned to move forward: Balser

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., delivers Tuesday’s State of the Medical Center Address in Langford Auditorium. (photo by Joe Howell)

He began with a simple thank you.

That’s how Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine chose to begin his annual State of the Medical Center address on Tuesday.

“I don’t know how to thank you enough,” he said to the Medical Center’s faculty and staff in attendance at Langford Auditorium, expressing his gratitude for everyone’s efforts during a challenging 2014 fiscal year.

Despite the sharp tumble in the nation’s health care sector, through difficult economic repositioning work over the past 18 months, Vanderbilt University Medical Center is now “in a very strong position to move forward,” Balser said. Surveys and a continued rise in demand for Vanderbilt’s health care services, research and educational programs indicate that “people still believe in us and they strongly believe in us. 

Speaking to the vision for the Medical Center’s future, Balser said he wants to spend time this year on engaging the entire Medical Center in both understanding and shaping its strategy, and those efforts would include not only development of tactics for success in each unit and work area, but also a renewed focus on the “Why.” He urged those in attendance to ask what motivates them to do what they do each day. 

Expanding on his address from earlier this month at the Fall Leadership Assembly, and sharing stories from patients who have recently received care at VUMC, Balser said, beyond our devotion to mission, “We give of ourselves for patients, for the research that we do, for the education that we do … with the concern … the passion that we would give to a member of our own family.”

Town halls will be held throughout the Medical Center starting next week to enable members of Vanderbilt’s community to discuss their beliefs, aspirations and motivations for VUMC, and as well as key areas of effort that will drive excellence for and distinguish the Medical Center for the future. Balser suggested six areas for consideration:

  • Deliver the highest quality and safest care;
  • Personalize the care of every patient;
  • Provide prompt and continuous access;
  • Advance knowledge of human health;
  • Build the capabilities of our people; and
  • Improve cost effectiveness.

In advancing cost effectiveness, over the past year, Vanderbilt has demonstrated that “we can get the cost out of health care ourselves,” while not sacrificing, but in fact improving quality. Balser said. “There are millions of dollars to be saved.”

Personalizing care does not mean only genomic medicine, although we have continued to lead the nation in diagnostic advances using “big data” in this arena, he said. It also means neurosurgeons and ophthalmologists working together to deliver tiny amounts of chemotherapy directly to a tumor in the eye of a child to avoid systemic side effects. 

It means becoming a leader in the use of miniaturized left-ventricular assist devices that enable people with heart failure to lead fairly normal lives while they wait for a heart transplant. “If that’s not personalized medicine, I don’t know what is,” he said. 

Vanderbilt is also helping to shape the future of the nation’s health care delivery through such efforts as its nationally recognized nurse practitioner training program, its Biomedical Informatics innovations and through other advancements such as research that may help curb the rapidly growing Ebola pandemic currently plaguing Africa. 

One of the biggest challenges facing Vanderbilt, and essentially every medical center in the country, is prompt and seamless access to care. “It’s extraordinarily important for us to get it right,” he said.

“Vanderbilt must be able to respond quickly to questions from patients, families and referring physicians. It must expand its capacity and coordinate its clinics electronically so patients can be seen by a whole array of specialty services much more quickly.

“And it must continue to pioneer the use of the Internet as a primary vehicle through which patients, referring doctors, affiliated hospitals and others interact with our caregivers with immediacy, all the while communicating the sense of caring that distinguishes Vanderbilt.”

The stakes for health care’s future could not be higher. But Balser had no doubt the Medical Center will lead this future.

He ended his presentation showing one of VUMC’s videos about patient care with the last frame of the video’s message to the parents of children treated here. “You’ll do anything for your child,” it said in big bold letters. “So will we,” Balser said. “Expand that message to, we’ll do anything for our patients … for everyone. That’s who we are. I think that gets to our ‘why.’”

To view Balser’s address, click on