BACKGROUND. It is widely acknowledged that academic medical centers (AMCs) must be committed to appropriate resource use and to the clinical evaluation research needed to accomplish this goal. The authors report the results of a national survey and series of site visits to further elucidate the role of centralized mechanisms for evaluating clinical practice, called clinical evaluation units (CEUs). A CEU is characterized by a separate operating unit with a physician director on at least a half-time basis complemented by data analysts, information system specialists, or other technical staff. METHOD. In April 1993, the authors mailed a survey instrument to the 60 hospitals that were members of the University Hospital Consortium (UHC) and to 28 non-UHC teaching hospitals. After four follow-up mailings and telephone reminders, a 69% response rate (61 responses) was achieved. The survey instrument highlighted areas such as the environment in which the hospitals operated, the structure and organization of clinical evaluation, the process of how these activities were carried out, and the outcomes from the CEUs. RESULTS. Twenty-two respondents had centralized mechanisms that met the authors' definition of a CEU. Support for most CEUs came from hospital administrations and not from medical school deans. An alternative structure emerged from the analysis: 18 respondents indicated that they did not have CEUs but that clinical evaluation activities were integrated into the medical staff hierarchy and dispersed throughout departments that reported to a physician executive. CONCLUSION. The discipline of clinical evaluation is in its infancy in teaching institutions. Many AMCs do not have a coordinated program of clinical evaluation; others are just starting. Clinical evaluation must become integrated into medical education and hospital operations to serve as one aspect of academic medicine's response to health care reform.
(C) 1995 Association of American Medical Colleges