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Wennberg Wins Lienhard Award

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Recognizes "outstanding achievement in improving health-care services in the United States"

John E. Wennberg received the 2008 Gustav O. Lienhard Award from the Institute of Medicine this month for reshaping the U.S. health-care system to focus on objective evidence and outcomes rather than physician preference as the basis for treatment decisions. Wennberg, who joined the Dartmouth faculty in 1980, is founder and director emeritus of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, and holds the Peggy Y. Thomson Chair for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences.

John E. Wennberg (Photo by Jon Gilbert Fox).

The 23rd recipient of the Lienhard Award, which includes $25,000 in cash, Wennberg is widely recognized for pioneering research on health-care outcomes and patient-directed care. Using small-area analysis, a strategy developed by Wennberg and his colleague Alan Gittlesohn, he showed that rates of procedures in areas with similar populations varied greatly, and determined that the variations stemmed primarily from differences in physicians' treatment preferences. His discoveries challenged the medical profession to acknowledge that most care was based on tradition or opinion rather than on objective evidence.

He founded and served as the first editor of the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, which has reported on patterns of end-of-life care, inequities in the Medicare reimbursement system, and the underuse of preventive care. Wennberg's research on measuring the outcomes of care helped shape the legislation that created the Agency for Health Care Quality and Research within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Pay for performance"-the idea of basing physician reimbursement on meeting performance standards, which is gaining wide acceptance-grew out of a model Wennberg devised.

In addition, Wennberg has been a champion of sharing information about the benefits and risks of therapeutic options with patients. He co-founded, with colleague Albert Mulley '70, the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, to provide objective information to patients about treatment choices. Mulley is a Dartmouth trustee and chair of the Presidential Search Committee. Wennberg also co-founded, with James Weinstein, director of the Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, the Center for Shared Decision Making at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. It is the first entity in the United States to promote patients' involvement as partners in treatment decisions.

In their nomination of Wennberg, Uwe E. Reinhardt of Princeton University and Michael Zubkoff, chair of the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Dartmouth, wrote that Wennberg "has almost single-handedly altered the debate in health policy.

"Dr. Wennberg was the first to suggest-and to show conclusively-that more care is not always best and that patient outcomes are often better with more conservative treatment. His vision 30 years ago started to unravel the mystery of an irrational national health-care system."

The Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policy makers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public. The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice is dedicated to improving health care through education, research, policy reform, leadership improvement, and communication with patients and the public.


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Last Updated: 12/17/08