The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is independent and authoritative

On Oct. 14, 1988, I published a Special Communication by Irvine H. Page, one of the founders of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in JAMA. Dr. Page criticized the IOM at age 18 for failing to live up to the vision of its founders. This was accompanied by a rejoinder and a prospective by then IOM President Samuel O. Thier. My editorial was entitled “Still Needed — A National Academy of Medicine.”

This is 2011 and much has changed. As the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the IOM has made great progress under a sequence of brilliant leaders.

But its identity remains confusing to some.

Even physicians mistakenly believe that the IOM is a branch of government. It is not. It is a prestigious organization of members from the medical and related health professions elected by their predecessors.

Fewer than one in 1,000 American physicians belong. Membership is an honor, but members are expected to work.

Because of its small size and demographics, the IOM is not intended to be representative and is pointedly apolitical. It is nonprofit, independent, and authoritative.

It serves as adviser to the nation, including the Congress, on concerns of health and healthcare. As part of the 501c3 NAS, the IOM is prohibited from lobbying.

Consider the topics of some of the IOM reports from 2010:

  1. Enhancing Food Safety
  2. The Future of Nursing
  3. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D
  4. A National Cancer Clinical Trials System for the 21st Century
  5. A Population-Based Policy and Systems Change Approach to Prevent and Control Hypertension, and
  6. Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States

Although the IOM has come a long way, it can still strive to fully satisfy the vision of its founders.

Who in American medicine do you trust? Tough question.

Many medical people and organizations seem largely governed by self-interest and politics. I trust the IOM more than any other medical or health organization in the U.S.

I am an IOM member, but I believe that my bias is that of being informed, not of simply belonging.

I think you can usually trust the IOM and its reports. Try it.

George Lundberg is a MedPage Today Editor-at-Large and former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Originally published in MedPage Today. Visit MedPageToday.com for more health policy news.

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