Researchers want new way to evaluate medical schools

The medical community needs to develop a more scientific approach to evaluate the quality of American medical schools than the survey-based U.S. News & World Report rankings it has primarily relied upon, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

"This situation is akin to that of Major League Baseball, in which the traditional, subjective evaluation of players was supplanted by the data-driven system of sabermetrics, which now provides the objective data used to rank teams and individual players," the authors wrote.

Other studies have criticized the U.S. News rankings for hospitals, saying there are flaws in the ranking criteria that may mislead consumers about the facilities' quality of care, FierceHealthcare has reported.

To make medical school rankings more scientific, researchers developed their own model for evaluating academic institutions, based primarily on metrics that assess the professional development of each institution's graduates. The model assigns scores to medical school graduates from 1950 to 2009 by tracking their performance in the following categories: grants, clinical trials, publications and awards/honors.

Furthermore, by dividing these physicians by graduation decade, researchers were able to track medical schools' quality performance over time, the authors note.

After applying this model to 24 institutions, Harvard Medical School ranked first, followed closely by Johns Hopkins, and the University of Virginia came in last, according to the study. Harvard also received top marks in the latest rankings from U.S. News, with Emory University coming in at No. 24. Its rankings system goes through No. 84, with numerous schools tied for rankings.

"Our model demonstrates the feasibility of an outcomes-based approach to evaluating medical schools' ability to produce academic physicians who go on to successful biomedical research careers," Matthew J. Goldstein, M.D., Ph.D., and the lead author of the study, said in a study announcement published by Medical Xpress. The model isn't, however, well-suited to evaluate institutions that aren't as research-based, such as those that focus on producing primary care physicians, he noted.

The University of Missouri School of Medicine, for example, strives to develop physicians who are committed to providing patient-centered care, and has even developed a test to measure its students' aptitude for patient-centered behaviors, FiercePracticeManagement previously reported.

Still, the study's authors believe all varieties of medical education could benefit from a more scientific approach to evaluating academic institutions.

"For a field like medicine, which is guided by the principles of evidence-based practice, we know very little about what educational processes produce the best physicians," another of the study's authors, Mitchell R. Lunn, M.D., said in the announcement. "By fostering a national discussion about the most meaningful criteria we should be measuring and reporting, we hope to improve the quality of medical education across the nation."

 To learn more:
- check out the study
- read the announcement
- see the U.S. News rankings