Our Medical Mecca

Jul. 18, 2013 @ 06:25 PM

It’s an oft-repeated observation – if you’re really sick or if you contract a serious or sudden disease, this is a pretty good place to live.

It was not empty rhetoric years ago when Durham adopted “City of Medicine” as its branding. With a concentration of medical centers where cutting edge research and stratospheric levels of care occur, this is a region whose economy as well as its sense of itself are bound up tightly in the healing professions.

Underscoring that this week, once again, were the rankings by U. S News and World Report. Of the top five hospitals in North Carolina according to the magazine, three are in the Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan area.

Duke University Medical Center was ranked number 1 in the state, UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill was number 3 and Duke Regional Hospital (until recently Durham Regional) was number 4.

Those three medical centers and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem were the only four North Carolina hospitals ranked nationally by U. S. News and World Report.

The magazine recognizes up to 50 hospitals in 17 adult specialties. Duke was nationally ranked with 13 of those 17 specialties. UNC had three nationally ranked and Duke Regional had one.

These commendable rankings can’t be discussed without some caveats. U.S. News regularly comes in for criticism on its rankings of medical centers, universities and other institutions because, well, any system of ranking such large and complex entities necessarily has to arbitrarily choose factors that may be quantifiable but don’t deal with nuances and subjective evaluations.

And the cost of such highly specialized medical facilities, stocked with outstanding physicians, surgeons, researchers and teachers, is much higher at less complex institutions. It’s a fair question to debate whether routine care at such a facility is more expensive than at other institutions that could treat routine cases with lower costs.

Those factors are true enough – still, we would argue, it is far better to live in a region with that level of care than not (of course, we can also debate a system that concentrates such remarkable care in some regions and leaves others bereft of enough family practitioners to provide the most basic care).

There’s no question but what that level of medical care helps to recruit businesses and attract individuals to this area. We rank among the top retirement areas in the country, in no small measure because of the sophisticated medical care – and the educational institutions that envelope the Duke and UNC centers.

Research that goes on and is applied at our medical centers raises our profile as a region as well as benefitting our residents – and those from many miles away.

The prosperity and dynamic economy of our region, even, relatively speaking, through the Great Recession, owe much to the magnets those medical centers are for highly skilled, highly compensated professionals. 

It is indeed possible to make too much of rankings such as U. S. News’.  But we have many reasons to feel good about our stature as a city – and region – of medicine.