May 12, 2006

New institute set to unite public health initiatives

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Robert Dittus, M.D., M.P.H.

New institute set to unite public health initiatives

Robert Dittus, M.D., M.P.H., has been named director of the new Institute for Medicine and Public Health at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The mission of the institute is to improve personal and public health through discovery, training and service programs designed to protect against threats to health, promote healthier living, improve the quality of health services and prepare leaders to advance health and health care.

“Our penultimate goal is improving the quality, safety, equity and efficiency of public and personal health services, with the ultimate goal to improve the health of all our citizens,” said Dittus.

The institute, which emerged from the medical center's new strategic plan to strengthen its research enterprise, will be an “umbrella organization,” coordinating and supporting rapidly growing areas of epidemiology, health services research and behavioral health research.

It “will provide structure and support for recruiting and strategic efforts encompassing nearly 30 percent of our new research strategic plan,” said Jeffrey Balser, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research.

The institute will eventually be located in new “dry lab” space — still in the planning stages — where institute faculty and programs can closely collaborate with biostatistics, bioinformatics, preventive medicine and other clinical research programs.

Dittus, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine and Public Health, also directs four centers and one training program that will now come under the institute's umbrella — the Center for Health Services Research, the Institute for Community Health, the Center for Improving Patient Safety, the VA Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC) and the Quality Scholars Program.

The new institute will help coordinate the activities of six other existing programs — the School of Medicine's Institute for Global Health; the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society; the Center for Medicine, Health and Society; the Joint Center for Nursing Research; the Center for Perioperative Research in Quality; and the VA's Center for Patient Healthcare Behavior.

Two new centers are planned for this year: a Center for Quality Aging, which will coordinate its activities with the GRECC; and a Center for Epidemiologic Research, which will include a Ph.D. program in epidemiology. The Department of Biostatistics also is developing a Ph.D. program in biostatistics that will complement these new programs.

In addition to these new centers and programs, the Center for Health Services Research will expand research in clinical epidemiology and outcomes research, clinical improvement and operations research, clinical economics and decision sciences, health behavior and education research and health policy.

Dittus explained why Vanderbilt decided to structure these programs through an interdisciplinary institute.

“In many universities, the work of the institute is organized within a school of public health,” he said. “However, important advances in both understanding and developing solutions to the problems facing medicine and public health will require better engagement of other disciplines throughout the university.

“In the past century, the creation of separate schools of medicine, nursing, allied health sciences and public health created barriers to integrating the key perspectives and methods from public health and health services research into clinical medicine.

“Vanderbilt is taking a 21st Century approach by creating a trans-disciplinary institute that can partner with all relevant schools and centers throughout the Medical Center and University in a coordinated and mutually supportive manner,” Dittus said.

“The result should be more innovative and effective research and training programs while products of the institute's work will improve health through shaping disease prevention and health care delivery to be safe, timely, effective, patient-centered, equitable and efficient.”

Dittus is the Albert and Bernard Werthan Professor of Medicine.