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There are very few regions
outside major metropolitan areas where people have access to the kind of high-quality medical care available in Central Virginia, thanks to the efforts of the physicians and medical staff at the U.Va. Health System. This year, the University's Medical Center was once again named one of the top 100 hospitals in the country by HCIA Inc. and the Health Network. This ranking reflects empirical performance data on quality of care, efficiency of operations, and the ability to sustain overall performance.

The annual Best Hospitals guide from U.S. News & World Report reinforced these findings. Eleven medical specialties ranked in the top fifty, including endocrinology, neurology and neurosurgery, cancer, and ear, nose, and throat care, which were ranked in the top twenty of their respective fields. In addition, the U.Va. Health System was selected as one of the top three hospitals in a benchmarking project conducted by the University Health System Consortium (UHC). The UHC project involved forty-one academic medical centers throughout the country.
The University Hospital

Building Broad Excellence in Clinical Care

The benefits of the advanced medical care that the University offers are felt far from Charlottesville. On New Year's Day, doctors at U.Va. were able to save the life of a two-day-old baby in Winchester, thanks to the new Virginia Children's Heart Center, which connects U.Va. specialists to pediatric cardiologists around the state. Using teleconferencing equipment, Dr. Karen S. Rheuban, director of the University's telemedicine program, was able to diagnose a very rare cardiac defect and prescribe lifesaving treatment. The baby was then transported to U.Va. and his heart repaired the next day.

One reason that the University is able to offer this high standard of care is that our medical staff is constantly developing, evaluating, and adopting new procedures that show the most promise. For example, U.Va. cardiologists are heading studies to evaluate new treatment for atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat. U.Va. oncologists are also leading clinical trials of a vaccine for melanoma. Other clinical trials focus on determining if breast cancer patients are good candidates for sentinel node biopsies, a much less invasive alternative to traditional lymph node surgery. And researchers are exploring the possibility of creating "edible vaccines" to be grown in vegetables for fighting diseases around the world.

In our clinics, U.Va. radiologists now use a new, minimally invasive technique, uterine fibroid embolization, to treat many cases of benign tumors in the uterus. In the past, a hysterectomy was the treatment of choice. They are also proponents of a new surgical procedure using laparoscopy to relieve debilitating chronic heartburn. Previous methods required a long incision in the abdomen, resulting in a lengthy recovery time.

In addition, the University has invested in modern facilities to fuel the innovations that continue to benefit our patients and make world-class medicine possible. The Motion Analysis Lab, used for treating patients with cerebral palsy and musculoskeletal disorders, is one of the best-equipped centers of its kind in the United States. Its computers record a patient's walking pattern through six high-speed video cameras. Floor-mounted force plates measure pressure from different parts of the foot, and reflective markers hooked to electrodes are taped to the patient. The resulting computer screen image looks like a three-dimensional skeleton walking on graph paper.

Maintaining this kind of innovation and high quality of care across the entire U.Va. Health System is challenging. The University, like medical centers nationally, must find ways to compensate for the rising costs of providing health care and drugs and the declining rate of federal reimbursements. Thanks to better management practices, the Medical Center has been able to cut costs and improve operating margins, placing it in the top 10 percent of academic medical centers nationwide. At the same time, it has devoted $1 million for professional development and training and received authorization from the Board of Visitors to spend up to $4 million to hire and retain critical personnel.

Fighting Prostate Cancer:
In the Clinic and In the Lab

Theodorescu lab team
Dr. Theodorescu and his research team
in his research lab.

With a complementary array of basic scientists and clinicians, an academic health center is uniquely positioned to translate discoveries from the scientist's laboratory to treatments at the patient's bedside. Dr. Dan Theodorescu exemplifies this process. The holder of medical and doctoral degrees, this physician-scientist is as comfortable with his patients as he is with researchers from around the world.

As a clinician, he has been involved in creating a blood test used to find residual prostate cancer after surgery. The test is potentially more accurate and reliable, and may also be quicker and less costly than the current practice of removing and examining tissue samples. Dr. Theodorescu and his team are now considering the test for other organs.

As a researcher, Dr. Theodorescu and his team study prostate cancer, particularly the genes that create new blood vessels that nourish tumor growth. By determining the genes involved, they hope to design methods to inhibit this process, thus cutting off blood flow to the tumor and causing it to die.

Translational cancer research of the kind that Theodorescu and his colleagues practice is set to grow exponentially at the University, thanks to a bequest of $20 million from philanthropist Paul Mellon to establish the Mellon Prostate Cancer Research Institute. With this gift, new, talented researchers will be brought on board to join Dr. Theodorescu, who holds the title of Mellon Professor of Urology.

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