John Eisenberg, M.D., only the second physician to lead the federal agency charged with reducing medical errors, died last week after a 14-month bout with brain cancer.
Eisenberg, 55, was appointed director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality by President Clinton in 1997 and was retained by President Bush. The AHRQ conducts and funds research to improve outcomes of medical care and expand access to services. The 300-person agency is part of HHS.
As of late last week, HHS officials and industry sources offered no clues on whether Eisenberg's successor would be a physician or when an appointment would be made.
"John boldly transformed the agency into one of the most respected and relevant scientific research institutions," said Sen. William Frist (R-Tenn.), the Senate's only physician.
Bush's 2003 budget proposal would cut the AHRQ's budget by 16% from 2002, aiming to achieve efficiencies in research activities.
Gail Warden, Henry Ford Health System's president and chief executive officer, credited Eisenberg with bridging the gap between government and the private sector to help create an infrastructure to improve healthcare quality.
"He is really going to be sadly missed and was one of the most admired people in the country in medicine," Warden said.
Eisenberg was diagnosed with brain cancer in January 2001. After undergoing surgery that month, he returned to his post in February 2001 and continued to work until about a month ago.
Last July, the AHRQ released an evidence-based handbook to help hospital administrators pick which patient-safety practices to implement. Eisenberg said the document was part of the agency's effort to help reduce medical errors in hospitals, which according to one oft-cited study result in 40,000 to 98,000 deaths per year.
Before his appointment at the AHRQ, Eisenberg was chairman of the department of medicine and physician in chief at Georgetown University, Washington. From 1986 to 1995, he was a founding commissioner of the Congressional Physician Payment Review Commission and served as its chairman from 1993 to 1995.
"At the age of 55, Eisenberg had already established a reputation as one of the most gifted and effective leaders of American medicine," said Jordan Cohen, M.D., president of the Association of American Medical Colleges.
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson described Eisenberg's legacy as "ensuring that healthcare is built on a strong foundation of scientific evidence that is translated into the improved health of the American people."
Eisenberg, who died March 10, graduated from high school in Memphis, Tenn., and earned an undergraduate degree from Princeton (N.J.) University, and a medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis. He is survived by his wife, DD Rudner Eisenberg, and by two sons.