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white coat notes

Journal celebrates 200 years of service

From the Globe’s health care blog.

In 1819, French physician René Laennec published a description of the cacophony of sick lungs, deciphered with his new invention, the stethoscope. About 18 months later, doctors in New England read about his discoveries, delivered across the sea and by horseback to their offices, in one of the early editions of what would become the venerable New England Journal of Medicine.

Laennec’s discoveries altered medicine in a way so fundamental that we see the effects each time a doctor uses the instrument. It is among the first of many enduring changes documented by the journal and being celebrated this year as it reaches its 200th anniversary.


The journal, operated by the Massachusetts Medical Society, is marking the occasion with a website, articles, and a symposium in June.

“This is an opportunity to take a look and see how much better off we are now than our forbearers,’’ said Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, editor in chief.

The commemorative website (nejm200.nejm.org ) includes an interactive timeline of the milestones in medicine that have appeared on the journal’s pages.

The manner in which the journal has reported on such advancements is a story in itself.

When Robert Koch gave a famous lecture in Berlin in 1882 identifying the bacteria that caused tuberculosis, the news was dispatched to the journal via telegraph and printed a week later, Drazen said.

Nearly a century later, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out its weekly bulletin reporting on four previously healthy gay men who had contracted an unknown infection - what would become known as HIV - the news reached editor Arnold ’ Relman by phone and the first articles on the disease appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine soon after.

Today, five times more people read the journal online than in print, said Edward Campion, web editor.


“Our core mission remains the same: To get the best information to doctors,’’ Drazen said. “We do it the best way we can. . . . For the physician who’s 60, we publish a print magazine every week. For the physician who’s 30 we have a very active website.’’

Health care panel named

The Patrick administration last week announced the names of the seven appointees to a committee charged with creating a set of health care quality benchmarks for the state.

Among other things, the committee’s work could be used in awarding payments to hospitals that treat large numbers of poor patients and in determining how hospitals and doctors will be categorized in newer tiered health plans.

The committee will meet for the first time Jan. 25. It will be chaired by Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach and Áron Boros, commissioner of the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy. Other members are:

■Dolores Mitchell, executive director of the Group Insurance Commission (ex-officio)

■Dr. Julian Harris, MassHealth director (ex-officio)

■Dianne Anderson, chief executive of Lawrence General Hospital

■Jon Hurst, president, Retailers Association of Massachusetts

■Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director, Health Care for All

■Dr. James Feldman, Massachusetts Medical Society, emergency physician at Boston University Medical Center

■Dr. Richard Lopez, chief physician executive, Atrius Health

Visit boston.com/whitecoatnotes for the full blog. Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.