Creating 21st-Century Laboratories and Classrooms for Improving Population Health: A Call to Action for Academic Medical Centers

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Abstract

Academic medical centers (AMCs) in the United States built world-class infrastructure to successfully combat disease in the 20th century, which is inadequate for the complexity of sustaining and improving population health. AMCs must now build first-rate 21st-century infrastructure to connect combating disease and promoting health. This infrastructure must acknowledge the bio-psycho-social-environmental factors impacting health and will need to reach far beyond the AMC walls to foster community “laboratories” that support the “science of health,” complementary to those supporting the “science of medicine”; cultivate community “classrooms” to stimulate learning and discovery in the places where people live, work, and play; and strengthen bridges between academic centers and these community laboratories and classrooms to facilitate bidirectional teaching, learning, innovation, and discovery.

Private and public entities made deep financial investments that contributed to the AMC disease-centered approach to clinical care, education, and research in the 20th century. Many of these same funders now recognize the need to transform U.S. health care into a system that is accountable for population health and the need for a medical workforce equipped with the skills to measure and improve health. Innovative ideas about communities as centers of learning, the importance of social factors as major determinants of health, and the need for multidisciplinary perspectives to solve complex problems are not new; many are 20th-century ideas still waiting to be fully implemented. The window of opportunity is now. The authors articulate how AMCs must take bigger and bolder steps to become leaders in population health.

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