Millions of times a year, samples of blood, tissue, saliva and more travel from Michigan Medicine’s patient care facilities to the Department of Pathology for testing that can reveal a patient’s diagnosis, track their response to treatment or guide their future care.
For decades, nearly all that testing has happened on the main Medical Campus. But this week, the first of those samples traveled to a brand-new destination: a massive new pathology facility at the North Campus Research Complex.
Built as part of a $160 million project, the 139,000-square-foot facility will make it possible for the pathology department to serve an ever-growing demand for advanced clinical and anatomic pathology testing.
That demand has risen nearly 8 percent every year for the last decade. And nearly 10 percent of the demand comes from outside U-M — from hospitals that send samples hundreds of miles for advanced testing through the MLabs service. Some of the tests the department offers are available from few other places in the country.
No interruption to clinical care
In the coming weeks, sections of the new facility will come online in a well-planned sequence, with no interruption to service when each type of testing switches to NCRC. Dedicated courier vehicles will move samples to the new facility from a new hub on the Medical Campus around the clock, every day. STAT labs will still be processed in the hospital.
As samples travel to and through the new facility, a new digital tracking system will keep a closer eye on each sample’s progress through all the steps of testing and recording of the pathologist’s diagnosis. This will ensure specimens are followed each step of the way, creating greater efficiencies and security for these valuable patient samples.
“This new facility will allow us to keep pace with the rapidly accelerating growth in sophisticated analysis of patient samples, improving efficiency and turnaround time while providing more than 1,100 different test options for the providers who rely on us,” said Charles Parkos, Carl Vernon Weller Professor of Pathology, and professor and chair of pathology. “This is the most up-to-date pathology facility in the country.”
Designed for lean operations
The project to create the new clinical pathology facility started more than four years ago with a nearly blank slate: four vacant and connected buildings at a research complex formerly owned by Pfizer,Inc. Some of the buildings had just been constructed when Pfizer sold them.
Converting the empty buildings for clinical use, and preparing to move many clinical operations out of the Medical Campus with no interruption to patient care, took years of careful planning. The project also includes renovation of pathology space at University Hospital over the next two years — aimed at creating a faster and more modern facility for rapid testing that guides the care of hospitalized patients.
Throughout the planning process, staff and faculty used the “lean thinking” approach to design their new space with architects, engineers, designers and vendors. They sought to bring together testing operations, administrative functions and educational programs that were previously spread out among 10 separate locations across the medical campus and the city.
For each type of test, the team created the ideal layout for sample handling, testing equipment, clinical consultation space and educational space for faculty to train the next generation of pathologists through U-M’s top-ranked residency and fellowship training programs.
Each type of test has its own dedicated area, with many new pieces of technology purchased for the new site. In some cases, the process that staff had to follow in their old location required them to walk hundreds of steps. With the lean-designed facility, that will be cut considerably.
“We are working to build the Department of Pathology of the future,” said Parkos. “The venture will greatly facilitate the achievement of our clinical goals, providing a high level of support to both our patients and providers.”