The Institute of Medicine recently presented the 2012 Gustav O. Lienhard Award to Donald M. Berwick, a physician whose work has catalyzed a national movement to improve health care quality and safety. The award recognizes Berwick's decades-long leadership in establishing and expanding the field of clinical quality improvement, which has become an integral element of graduate medical education and an increasingly important component of certification programs and health care practice, leading to both better outcomes for millions and cost savings in the delivery of care.
"It is my great privilege to present this award to Dr. Berwick, a champion of safe, quality health care," said IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg. "His unwillingness to accept mediocre outcomes as the norm in health care delivery has led to comprehensive reforms and streamlined processes that have significantly reduced rates of medical errors throughout the health system.
Berwick began studying the science of process improvement and testing the application of modern methods to improve manufacturing to health care delivery early in his career. He co-founded the National Demonstration Project on Quality Improvement in Health Care in 1986 to explore ways to increase safety and quality, and he subsequently helped establish the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), an incubator for developing new concepts and approaches to enhancing patient safety and health care quality.
Under Berwick's nearly two-decade tenure as IHI's president and CEO, the institute's work challenged and upended commonly held faulty assumptions, such as acceptance of hospital-acquired infections, patient falls, and other negative outcomes of hospital stays as inevitable and unavoidable. IHI pioneered numerous practices that are now standards, including a set of protocols that have dramatically reduced the incidence of critically ill patients becoming infected through infusion tubes in hospital intensive care units. Through its forums and activities, IHI has disseminated improvement strategies and engaged thousands of clinicians and institutions in improving the reliability and safety of care.
Berwick's expertise made him an invaluable member of the committee that authored two of the IOM's most influential reports, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System and Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century. These reports helped raise national awareness of the systemic factors that lead to medical mishaps and identified six fundamental principles of quality health care that have been widely adopted.
Berwick's influence has shaped health care policy as well as its practice. His work has fundamentally changed the orientation and operations of the Joint Commission, helped define the quality research agenda of the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and inspired the founding of the National Committee for Quality Assurance and the National Quality Forum. He was selected to serve as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2010. In this position, he launched an ambitious program called "Partnership for Patients," which aims to reduce hospital-acquired conditions by 40 percent and hospital readmissions by 20 percent by 2013, and he partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to initiate the "Million Hearts Campaign" to reduce heart attacks and strokes by 1 million over five years through enhanced prevention efforts.
Berwick earned a master's degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a medical degree from the Harvard Medical School. He is the recipient of many honors, including the Fries Prize for Improving Health from the James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation, the 2007 Heinz Award in Public Policy from the Heinz Family Foundation, one of the top five 2007 Purpose Prizes from Civic Ventures, the 2006 John M. Eisenberg Patient Safety and Quality Award for Individual Achievement from the National Quality Forum and the Joint Commission, and the 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award from the James Q. Cannon Health Care Quality Improvement Endowment. He was elected to the IOM in 1997 and was appointed Honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire by the Queen of England in 2005 in honor of his work with the country's National Health Service.
Berwick is the 27th recipient of the Lienhard Award, which includes a medal and $40,000 prize. Given annually, the award recognizes outstanding national achievement in improving personal health care services in the United States. Nominees are eligible for consideration without regard to education or profession, and award recipients are selected by a committee of experts convened by the IOM. This year's selection committee was chaired by Robert S. Lawrence, Center for a Livable Future Professor; professor of environmental health sciences, health policy, and international health; and director, Center for a Livable Future, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.
The Lienhard Award is funded by an endowment from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Gustav O. Lienhard was chair of the foundation's board of trustees from the organization's establishment in 1971 to his retirement in 1986 -- a period in which the foundation moved to the forefront of American philanthropy in health care. Lienhard, who died in 1987, built his career with Johnson & Johnson, beginning as an accountant and retiring 39 years later as its president. Additional information about the Lienhard Award can be found at http://www.iom.edu/lienhard.