January 10, 1997

Survey finds public unclear on role health centers play

Survey finds public unclear on role health centers play

Most Americans believe this country's medical education, patient care and research are among the finest in the world. At the same time, however, they don't associate these beliefs with the terms "academic medical center" or "academic medicine."

This national perception gap in the public's understanding of how well trained doctors, high quality patient care and cutting edge research come to be was the surprising finding of a recent report commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

According to the report, academic health centers (AHCs) such as Vanderbilt University Medical Center are held in high esteem by the people they service, but these same people often are unclear on exactly what AHCs do. Often, people outside the health care world – including many who are involved in other aspects of health care – are fuzzy about the connections between the medical school, hospital and medical research.

Also, the poll found that many Americans seem to assume that the medical research, education and patient care they value so highly will continue forever, that some large entity – whether corporate or governmental – will always be around to sustain it.

The results of the report, prepared by the health care issues research firm Public Opinion Strategies, will serve as the basis for a national AAMC communications program to increase and intensify pubic support for the mission of academic medicine. This effort is set to be launched later this year.

The AAMC represents all 125 accredited American medical schools, 87,000 faculty members, 67,000 medical students and 102,000 residents. The association is dedicated to improving the nation's health care through the advancement of academic medicine.

The report was completed in October 1996 and was comprised of two parts, a qualitative research effort that included nine focus groups in cities around the country where AHCs are prominent, and a national quantitative survey involving 900 respondents, 600 of whom were in cities where AHCs are located.

Other highlights of the report's findings were:

€ Consumers are not happy about the trend toward managed care. They see the result as less choice, less personal care and a triumph of cost cutting over quality.

€ People assume that medical advances will not be interrupted. Big business or big government will never let innovation be halted.

€ The words "academic medical center" are not connected in people's minds to AHCs' missions of medical education, patient care and medical research. While respondents generally understood the role of the teaching hospital and the medical school, the term "academic medical center" created confusion.

€ The local AAMC member hospital in each market surveyed received very high marks – but people even failed to identify them as not-for-profit hospitals.

€ When communicating outside the academic medical arena, it is suggested to bear in mind that the audiences are consumers and patients, not doctors, researchers or public policy decision makers. It is advised to talk to them as consumers.