The year is 1953, and the air is ripe with change. Dwight Eisenhower
is beginning the first of his two terms in the White House. Edmund
Hillary is preparing to conquer Everest. James Watson and Francis
Crick are unravelling the structure of DNA. And in Atlanta, with
encouragement from Coca-Cola chairman and benefactor Robert Woodruff,
Emory launches a new entity known as The Emory Clinic.
For the first time, faculty physicians in the School of Medicine
form a partnership, with a business structure to support them in
billing, collections, record-keeping and other office functions.
Their goal is to generate clinical income that will cure the school’s
annual deficits while helping it become a major national teaching
Flash-forward half a century. From modest beginnings, the clinic
has become the largest and most comprehensive group medical practice
in Georgia. And the School of Medicine is nationally ranked.
With 671 Emory faculty physicians and 2,029 staff members, the clinic
now hosts nearly 700,000 patient visits each year. Its physical
complex has grown dramatically since the first clinic building opened
in 1956; facilities now include Clinics A and B (located on Clifton
Road across from Emory Hospital) along with the 1525 Building, which
houses primary care and programs in preventive medicine and wellness.
Clinic physicians also practice in a number of health care centers
throughout the metropolitan area including Crawford Long Hospital,
Northlake, Perimeter, Smyrna, South DeKalb, Wesley Woods and Emory
Medical Affiliates at Sugarloaf.
But through all its growth, the clinic’s essential quality
has remained constant—its physicians still are working at
the leading edge of medical practice to bring to their patients
the latest and best drugs and procedures.
“What we really have to offer is the high quality of our physicians,
who are known not only nationally but internationally for their
skills,” said Rein Saral, an oncologist and bone marrow transplant
specialist who has served as clinic director since 1993.
In fact, Saral’s appointment reflects one of the clinic’s
principal strengths over its half-century of existence. The first
full-time director, Elliott Scarborough, also was a cancer specialist
whom Woodruff recruited to Atlanta from what is now Memorial Sloan-Kettering
in New York.
“Over the past 50 years, untold millions of people have passed
through the Emory Clinic to receive some of the very best health
care in the country,” said Michael Johns, executive vice president
for health affairs and director of the Woodruff Health Sciences
Center. “Many dedicated and compassionate physicians and staff
members have contributed to the efforts of the clinic. They are
to be congratulated for what was created half a century ago, and
for what they continue to accomplish for their patients today.”
Cancer treatment has been a clinic strong suit from the beginning,
though Saral noted the clinic has many other distinguished centers
and departments, attracting patients from Georgia and beyond. These
include world-class specialists in surgery, heart disease, eye disease
and disorders, infectious disease, organ transplant, neurology,
orthopaedics, psychiatry, kidney disease and urology, among others.
Emory’s Heart Center, long known for its pioneering research
and innovative patient care, is the only U.S. News & World
Report Top 10 cardiology department in the state.
“The Emory Clinic reflects the intellectual capital of the
School of Medicine translated into patient care,” Saral said.
“We have the doctors’ doctors here—the ones who
train the physicians—and we continually advance new knowledge
in medicine that is applicable to the day-to-day care of patients.”
Equally important to the success of the clinic has been its ability
to navigate the nation’s changing health care system, said
John Fox, president and CEO of Emory Healthcare, the University’s
clinical arm that embraces both the clinic and Emory Hospitals.
“In an ever more complex health care arena, we are fortunate
to have a superb operating team led by clinic COO Don Brunn and
CFO Sarah Dekutowski,” Fox said. “It has become apparent
that the future of academic medical centers such as ours depends
on our ability to offer world-class specialty and subspecialty care
while delivering an unsurpassed patient experience, working in partnership
with payers and physicians in the community.
“That’s a tall order,” Fox continued. “It
means you have to be on top of your game with both state-of-the-art
medicine and business administration.”
Some of the clinic’s bigger challenges include the rising
cost of malpractice insurance for physicians in Georgia, continuing
cutbacks in Medicare reimbursement from the federal government,
and ongoing negotiations with managed-care organizations and other
“We are dealing with all these issues,” Saral said.
“We have mechanisms in place to try to address all of them.”
As Saral looks to the next half-century, he sees an unchanging focus
on delivering a better quality of care. That will mean integrating
the new knowledge coming from basic science laboratories at Emory
and elsewhere into day-to-day medical practice, and it also means
an ever-growing emphasis on multidisciplinary care—harnessing
the combined insights of different disciplines to attack complex
diseases and disorders.
More diseases will be approached through better understanding of
their genetic roots, Saral predicted, and not only will this enable
new forms of treatment, it will allow many diseases to be diagnosed
earlier when they can be more easily treated or even prevented.
Saral said major growth areas at Emory will include heart and vascular
disease, the whole spectrum of cancer diagnosis and treatment, and
the neurosciences, combining neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry
in new approaches to neurodegenerative diseases and other disorders
of the mind.
“We will build on the theme of excellence in areas for which
we have long been known,” Saral said.