As Academic Health Centers Expand through Mergers, Research Must be Protected, Dr. Richard Bookman Writes in JAMA

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Mergers and acquisitions are sweeping through the U.S. health care system, largely driven by the needs of clinical business. At such a time, protecting the capacity to advance medical knowledge through research needs careful attention, according to Richard J. Bookman, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology and former executive dean for research and vice provost for research at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Dr. Richard J. Bookman

"There are both dangers and opportunities in these mergers and acquisitions," said Bookman, who was co-author of a viewpoint article, “Advancing the Research Mission in a Time of Mergers and Acquisitions,” published September 25 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  "One danger is that research could get pushed off to the side in a large-scale clinical business. But there is also an exciting opportunity to broaden the base and increase the diversity of both the research team and the participant population. Those can be very significant benefits to an academic medical center, especially as we move toward a data-driven health system."

Paul J. Hauptman, M.D., professor of internal medicine and assistant dean for clinical and translational research at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, was lead author of the JAMA article, and Stephen Heinig, M.A., director of science policy for the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C., was co-author.

"Many academic health centers today are wrestling with issues we faced in acquiring Cedars Medical Center [now University of Miami Hospital]," said Bookman. "Bringing a culture of investigation and clinical research to a community hospital is a big job, and we wanted to suggest some steps for other academic institutions to consider."

Academic centers would do well to pick their partners carefully, Bookman said. "Listen carefully to their views on research and see if the development of new medical knowledge will be a shared goal," he added. "With good leadership, a merger or acquisition can bring the community health care workforce into the knowledge creation practice, sharing their ideas and perspectives on clinical trials and the science of care delivery."

For community hospitals and health systems, a merger or acquisition can create business, operational and branding benefits, such as building a reputation for clinical research that brings meaningful improvements to its patients, Bookman said.

Reflecting on the threats and opportunities offered by mergers and acquisitions, Bookman and his co-authors said in their article, "Ultimately, systems that succeed will do so on the basis of the benefits that accrue from the knowledge gained and the continued growth and development of a workforce of health care professionals dedicated to the advancement of human health."