Wondering about the track record of a medical device? Have questions about a clinical procedure? Curious about the efficacy of a particular drug therapy? The ECRI Institute probably has the answer. Based 20 miles outside Philadelphia in Plymouth Meeting, ECRI Institute is a nonprofit organization that seeks to uncover the best approaches to improving patient care.
Founded by surgeon Joel Noble in a Philadelphia attic at Delancey Place and 20th Street, near Rittenhouse Square, the organization began in 1968 as the Emergency Care Research Institute. Its early focus involved evaluating emergency room medical devices. By the early 1990s, it broadened its scope beyond emergency care devices, and by the new millennium, it was taking advantage of the Internet, where it now disseminates information on a wide variety of topics.
Jeffrey Lerner, president and CEO of ECRI Institute, says that his organization offers a view of healthcare products and services similar to that available about consumer goods from Consumer Reports magazine. In addition to the institute's "very large expertise in medical devices," he points out that it does meta-analyses of disparate studies for procedures, drug therapies, and medical devices. Various healthcare organizations use this information, says Lerner, because "hospitals want to know which services really work. Payers in the public sector also want to know what to pay for and how well something works." ECRI evaluates technology, "but we don't evaluate on behalf of the producers of the technology such as medical device companies or drug companies." Companies can buy standard information products from ECRI, but the institute receives no commissions from them, and it is not supported by advertising dollars.
The US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has designated ECRI Institute as an evidence-based practice center by, and the World Health Organization has designated it as a collaborating center for technology, risk management, and patient safety.
Although national in scope, the institute offers the local community several important services. For the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," says Lerner, "we run the Medical Error and Near Miss Reporting System for every hospital in the state, as well as for nursing homes, ambulatory care facilities, and birthing centers." ECRI also collaborates with an offshoot of the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council on the Healthcare Improvement Foundation. "The Delaware Valley is attempting to become the safest hospital region in the country," he notes. "We work with hospitals in the region on different projects in different phases."
The institute has grown substantially since its humble beginnings. "In 1968 we had three employees, and now we have three hundred," Lerner says. The Greater Philadelphia region has what Lerner calls "historical assets," in that many pharmaceutical firms and medical schools have been located in the area for a long time. He adds, "The area is very attractive physically. It's beautiful, and people like living here. It's also less expensive than some of the competitive areas, such as Boston or New York." Last, but not least, "It has better weather than Boston."