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Recently, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) released a report on how American colleges of medicine are funded and how this funding has changed over the past several decades.
As a hospital medical director, this has enormous implications for hospitals associated with medical schools and the report is pretty sobering. Let’s take a look at 2 years: 1980 (the year I started medical school) and 2015, thirty-five years later.
In 1980, the biggest source of income for colleges of medicine was state governments which accounted for 29% of the total funding. Support from federal research was next at 22%. Income from clinical practice (both from physicians and hospitals) was also 22%. Tuition accounted for 6%.
Jump ahead to 2015 and there has been a huge shift in where the money comes from. Now state governments dropped to 6% of medical school funding. Federal research dropped to 14% of medical school funding. But clinical practice income now accounts for 60% of medical school funding. Of that 60%, 18% comes from hospital revenue and the other 42% comes from physician revenue. Tuition accounts for 4%.
It is not that the state governments are paying less. Indeed, in 1980, the states contributed $1,639,000 to medical colleges whereas in 2015, the states’ contributions rose to $6,990,000. The problem is that the total cost of colleges of medicine has exploded, rising from $5,645,000 in 1980 to $112,978,000 in 2015. In order to support this exponential increase in costs, medical schools have had to depend more and more on clinical practice income, from both physicians and hospitals.
On the surface, this might seem that the colleges of medicine are like giant parasites feeding off of the toil of physicians and hospitals but the reality is more complex. In 1980, most academic physicians were in private practices, with a rather small portion of their income coming from colleges of medicine; the physician practice income went to the physicians and not to the colleges. By 2015, most academic physicians were no longer in private practice but rather were employed by either the teaching hospitals or by the college of medicine (and sometimes the hospital and the college are essentially the same thing). Therefore, with the changes in physician employment, the total cost of a college of medicine has had to go up since the college now has to pay physician salaries but the amount that the colleges receive from clinical practice income has also gone up since the college-employed physicians clinical practice income is now credited to the college instead of a private medical practice.
So what is the implication of all of this to the hospital medical director? First, if you are a medical director of an academic teaching hospital, you will have an increasing percentage of your physicians employed by the colleges and universities rather than being in separate private clinical practices. Second, with 15% of college of medicine revenues coming from the academic teaching hospitals, these teaching hospitals will have additional expenses not borne by non-teaching hospitals. Although academic teaching hospitals do have additional federal income that non-teaching hospitals do not have in the form of federal direct graduate medical education and indirect graduate medical education funding, these funding sources alone will not sustainably cover the hospitals’ contribution to colleges of medicine in the future.
So what can we do as hospital medical directors? We are and for the foreseeable future will be inextricably intertwined in a symbiotic relationship with our colleges of medicine and academic physicians. We will need to recognize that our hospitals will be obligated to help support activities that are not historically part of the hospital mission, such as pre-clinical medical education and medical research. We also need to be stewards of the hospital’s resources since the hospital administrative leaders will rely on our expertise to advise them on where money should appropriately be allocated. And as part of being stewards of those hospital resources, we will need to hold the colleges and the physicians accountable to ensure that hospital funding is being used wisely and for the purposes that it was intended.
I still firmly believe that being an academic physician is one of the highest career callings in healthcare. And being a medical director of an academic teaching hospital is for me the culmination of that career. As medical directors, we face the controversies, conflicts, and challenges posed by the dynamic relationships between the hospitals and the colleges but in the end, there is no better job on the planet.
July 27, 2016