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Made in America: The Institute of Medicine

I had dinner with a small group of people recently – and Harvey Fineberg, President of the Institute of Medicine, was our dinner speaker. A few things struck me as he reviewed the history of this 37 year old institution.

First of all, The British Medical Journal published a thought-provoking article about the top 5 things that Britain and the US could learn from one another’s healthcare systems. Of all the possible things that they could highlight about US Healthcare, the Institute of Medicine was listed in the #1 slot.

Well, my goodness – is that the very best of what US medicine has to offer? The IOM?

Maybe so. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version (forgive me Dr. Fineberg) of the history and purpose of the IOM.

President Lincoln founded the National Academy of Sciences back in 1863 for the purpose of advising the public in an objective manner on matters of science.  The NAS has expanded to include 3 newer organizations: the National Research Council (1916), the National Academy of Engineering (1964), and  the Institute of Medicine (1970).

The IOM consists of members elected by peers in recognition of distinguished achievement in their respective fields. It has about 1,200 members. But here’s why this organization is so unique: all of the members VOLUNTEER their time! Can you imagine another organization that could get 1,200 doctors to work for free? Yes, they volunteer – and they do so gladly because it is an honor to be part of the task force to advise the public in an objective manner on matters of medicine. The IOM gets no money from the government, it survives on donations and volunteerism.

The IOM is uniquely positioned to formulate unbiased assessments of important medical questions. It is medicine in its purest form – the facts and the data are the only foundation of their analyses. No government funding, no pharmaceutical intervention, no personal agendas. Just the pursuit of truth.

Apparently the IOM produces 1 report per week! The most famous of which may be their “To Err Is Human” (2000) report which uncovered the shocking frequency of medical errors, and included recommendations for new patient safety initiatives.

A lesser known report actually debunked lie detector tests…

And so, as I considered Dr. Fineberg’s description of the IOM I began to realize why other industrialized nations are jealous of our institute. I am so glad that President Lincoln had the foresight to create an objective, “collective wisdom” vehicle for advising the nation. The question now becomes: does the nation hear what they’re saying?

I think it would be wonderful for the IOM to allow Revolution Health to be an outlet for disseminating their information to the public. After all, our mission is to empower consumers with the most credible health information available… and my friends, after hearing Dr. Fineberg’s speech, I don’t think it gets any better than the IOM.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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One Response to “Made in America: The Institute of Medicine”

  1. Dr. Scherger says:

    Great review of the Institute of Medicine Val. It is a wonderful organization to be part of. Serving on the Committee on the Quality of Health Care in America (we wrote To Err is Human and Crossing the Quality Chasm (2001)) changed my career. Currently I serve on a committee exploring the health workforce needs for an aging society. As the baby boomers move into the over 65 population, the number of seniors in America will double!

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