Academic medical centers are those universities that teach medical students, and include an affiliated hospital, called a teaching hospital, that provides hands-on experience to further those students' educations. These institutions may call themselves university health systems, or academic medical centers, or any combination of those words.
It's usually easy to pick out which hospitals are teaching hospitals because they most often have the word "university" in the name of the hospital. There will be a University of ____ (fill in the name of the university, state or city) hospital or it will just be called "University Hospital." According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, as of early 2012, there were 136 accredited academic medical schools in the United States and 17 in Canada, representing 400 teaching hospitals and health systems, and 62 VA (Veterans Affairs) hospitals.
Who Can Be Helped at an Academic or University Medical Center?
While anyone can be admitted and treated at an academic medical or teaching hospital, there are certain patient profiles who might benefit by choosing doctors who are affiliated with these academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, as follows:
- If you use Medicaid or a combination of Medicaid and Medicare you may find yourself welcome at university-affiliated hospitals. Often these hospitals are located in urban areas. They are considered to be "safety net" hospitals, and will admit patients who cannot afford private insurance, but have health coverage from a government program. (Note - that does not mean university hospitals don't accept other patients - they do.)
- If you have an unusual diagnosis or a rare disease you may find extended help in an academic medical setting because the doctors affiliated with university hospitals are often those who are also interested or involved in research, and therefore may enjoy going beyond the day-to-day of non-academic medicine. Further, there are student doctors in teaching hospitals who are learning everything they can about medicine, and sometimes unusual diagnoses are of a great deal of interest to them. Their university affiliation may also mean they must meet requirements to publish papers, journal articles or books, and unusual diagnoses may provide good topics for publication.
- If you can't get a diagnosis you may also find extended help from doctors and students who work in academic medical systems, for the same reasons as those who have unusual diagnoses and rare diseases might.
- Children who have difficult childhood diseases may find the help they need from teaching hospitals which often have a children's hospital affiliated with them, too.
- Patients who live in rural regions may find that their smaller, local hospitals are affiliated with the larger, regional, academic system. Sometimes this extended help will be managed through telemedicine. For example, a patient who suffers a stroke may be taken by ambulance to a small community hospital, but her treatment may be overseen by a neurologist at an academic medical center in a larger city in the region.