Brent James may need a new trophy case. In February 2005, he won a Health Quality Award from the National Council for Quality Assurance for his work in improving the quality of care in the U.S. Less than a month later, he received a Trust Award from the Health Research and Educational Trust, an affiliate of the American Hospital Association, for his application of the science of quality to practical caregiving. In November 2006, he received the Ernest Amory Codman Award from the Joint Commission for his leadership in using performance measures to improve safety and quality.
Clearly James was no runner-up when Modern Healthcare tagged him as an Up & Comer back in 1989 at the age of 38, when he was director of medical research and medical education at Intermountain Healthcare, Salt Lake City. Nor is he now.
James, now 56, is the executive director of the Institute for Health Care Delivery Research and vice president for medical research and continuing medical education at Intermountain. A surgeon and biostatistician, James has gained national recognition for applying quality management principles to healthcare delivery.
“He's been an incredibly effective voice for the need to get to best clinical practices and clinical outcomes,” says Intermountain President and Chief Executive Officer William Nelson, “and he's incredibly helpful in terms of implementing those best practices in our organization.”
James has been involved in researching many, if not all, of the best practices Intermountain has worked to put in place, Nelson says. “Brent has done the research, taken the time to understand the need for reduced variation,” he says. “He's gathered the data to make the case, clinically and financially.”
Applying the ideas of quality-improvement guru W. Edwards Deming, James has spearheaded projects at Intermountain that have demonstrated that improving quality can indeed reduce costs.
Under his leadership, Intermountain, an integrated delivery system that serves the entire state of Utah and beyond, has been a leader in using evidence-based medicine and in adopting clinical computing systems including an electronic health-record system.
James earned undergraduate degrees at the University of Utah in computer science in 1974 and in medical biology in 1975. After completing his medical training, he did a surgical residency at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City and earned a master's degree in statistics from the University of Utah in 1983. He then began a fellowship in the department of biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health but came back to Utah and to Intermountain in 1986.
The Advanced Training Program in Health Care Delivery Improvement that James developed in 1992 as part of the institute's work now attracts people from all over the country and the world, Nelson says.