Jimmy Kimmel Highlights the Value of Teaching Hospitals

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Darrell G. Kirch, MD, AAMC President and CEO
Late-night television is characterized by light entertainment and comedy. On May 1, 2017, however, Jimmy Kimmel opened his late-night show with an emotional monologue about his newborn son, Billy, who was born with a serious heart condition. Full of gratitude for the professionals at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles who saved his son’s life, Kimmel’s monologue was a moving and personal tribute to the value of interprofessional health care teams, the special missions of teaching hospitals, and the role of medical research in making medical miracles—such as Billy’s survival—possible.
 

Calling the care that saved his son’s life “an enormous team effort,” Kimmel spoke about the recovery room nurse who first recognized signs of a possible heart defect three hours after Billy was born. He also spoke at length about the specialists who saw his son, including an on-call pediatric cardiologist who rushed from the airport to the hospital on a Friday night to perform an echocardiogram that confirmed Billy’s heart disease and the cardiac surgeon who performed an emergency, three-hour, open-heart surgery to repair the defect in the three-day-old baby’s heart.

Each member of the highly skilled health care teams who treated Billy brought to the table important perspectives and skill sets that contributed to his survival. While it may sometimes seem that doctors get much of the credit, Kimmel highlighted the other vitally important health care professionals who play essential roles, especially the nurse who first recognized Billy’s heart murmur and the purple tinge to his skin. The individuals from diverse health professions who are on the front lines of patient care are often the first to notice the early warning signs of problems that require immediate intervention. The diversity in training, experience, and perspective that the different members of the health care teams brought together allowed them to provide rapid, effective, and lifesaving care for Billy, as they do for their other patients every day.

Team-based care has also been shown to improve clinical outcomes and efficiencies in care. Today, the imperative for health professionals to learn and work together is greater than ever. As care and delivery models continue to shift toward value-based reimbursement, advanced technology, and large, integrated health systems, interprofessional teams not only provide better care for individual patients, they make that care more effective, efficient, and accessible across entire communities. As the world of independent practice inevitably becomes one of interdependent practice, the diversity of perspectives that allied health professionals bring to health care teams will continue to increase our creativity and uncover more innovative solutions to our most pressing challenges.

Kimmel also expressed profound admiration and gratitude for the exceptional capabilities of the two teaching hospitals that treated his son: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. As Kimmel and his family experienced, teaching hospitals not only serve as the training ground for America’s health care workforce, they provide the most advanced medical care in the best facilities in the world and serve as hubs of medical innovation. In addition, teaching hospitals provide critical health care services that often cannot be found at other hospitals—96% of the nation’s comprehensive cancer centers are located at teaching hospitals, as are 69% of burn unit beds, 71% of Level I trauma centers, and 60% of pediatric intensive care unit beds. While only 5% of U.S. hospitals are teaching hospitals, they account for 24% of Medicaid hospitalizations and provide 33% of all hospital charity care in the United States. And highly trained specialists, such as the pediatric cardiologist and the cardiac surgeon who cared for Billy, are available 24–7 in teaching hospitals.

In speaking about the extraordinary care that Billy received, Kimmel also recognized the important role medical research played. Many staples of today’s high-quality clinical care were pioneered in America’s teaching hospitals, including intensive care units for newborns; new and better treatments for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer; lifesaving vaccines; and organ and bone marrow transplantations. This research is made possible largely through grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to researchers at medical schools and teaching hospitals. Unfortunately, the president’s 2018 budget proposal contains a $7.2 billion cut to the NIH budget—a decrease that would affect millions of children and others for whom research means hope of a cure or treatment that could heal or ease their suffering. As bipartisan congressional champions have emphasized, now is not the time to cut support for medical research but rather the time to keep investing in science so that even more progress can be made.

But perhaps the most powerful moment of Kimmel’s monologue came at the end, when he made an impassioned plea for the president and Congress to ensure that health care protections remain in place for other families who need them. He pointed out that, before the Affordable Care Act, an infant born with a preexisting condition, like his son’s congenital heart disease, may never have qualified for insurance. “If your baby is going to die, and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make … No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life.” We at the AAMC agree. We urge Congress and the president to commit to sustained growth in funding medical research and to ensuring high-quality, affordable, comprehensive coverage for all. This includes maintaining the expansion of Medicaid and protecting individuals with preexisting conditions and other vulnerable patients so that all patients can get the high-quality care they need.

And to Jimmy Kimmel, on behalf of the nurses, doctors, scientists, and other health professionals at the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals, we thank you for your beautiful tribute about the work we do. It is our mission. But it is also our privilege to provide this care to Billy and to all patients who come through our doors.