Updated Monday, March 2, 2009.
The Cleveland Clinic expects to break ground this summer on an expansion of its reference lab — a laboratory that does tests for other hospitals and medical facilities thatÂ can’t or don’t want to do the tests themselves.
The 100,000-square-footÂ building on the Clinic’s main campus, estimated to cost $25 million,Â promises to add up to 500 jobs to the city’s economy within five years. It also promises to bring in more business from across theÂ country — and from around the world — toÂ help pay for investments in better and faster tests for Clinic patients.
The Clinic is working with architects and engineers to designÂ the lab asÂ “the most efficient, modern, up-to-date laboratory that can house some of the most exciting testing, but do it in a way that we can have very rapid turnaround times,” said Dr. Kandice Kottke-Marchant,Â chair of the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Institute at the Clinic.Â
The Clinic’s existing reference lab employs nearly 800 people, including 59 pathologists — the doctors who diagnoses diseases by studying cells and tissue.
“We already have an amazing facility of laboratory testing available here,” said Kottke-Marchant, who also is president of the reference lab. “To give you a sense of the size of our laboratory, we are the 15th largest hospitalÂ laboratory in the U.S., doing 10 million tests per year.”
Doctors can order fromÂ aÂ menu of more than 2,000 distinct tests. “We are a very large laboratory,” she said.
ThatÂ labÂ hasÂ grown slowlyÂ during its 30 years, mostly by doing tests forÂ its own hospitals.Â TestingÂ doneÂ for other hospitalsÂ “is less than 10 percent of our total volume,” Kottke-MarchantÂ said. “So we would be looking at expanding that percentage of testing, a certain percentage every year.
Dino Kasdagly, who came to the Clinic about five monthsÂ ago as chief executive of the reference lab,Â wants to see the Clinic get a bigger piece of the market for “esoteric tests.” These are tests that are too complicated or too expensive for most hospitals to do.
“To give you perspective on the market,Â the esoteric space grows between 10 and 15 percent a year,” said Kasdagly, the former chief operating officerÂ atÂ Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “You can get a feel for why it’s important for the Clinic to more broadly participate.”
The market for esoteric tests — like molecular and DNA testing — is growing fast because ofÂ medical discoveriesÂ and technology advances, Kottke-Marchant said. “Medical knowledge now doubles practically every couple of years.”
For instance, researchers findÂ new ways to identifyÂ or diagnose diseases like cancer every two or three months. “Some of the small hospitals can’t bring these cutting-edge tests onto their clinical platforms fast enough,” she said.
But even the Clinic with its massive patient volume and bed number wouldn’t be able to make good use of an expanded reference lab and its expensive testing technologies all by itself, Kottke-Marchant said.
“We want to make an investment to better care for patients …Â and while doing that, we can offset many of the fixed costs and help reduce the cost of medicine by taking those [tests] to other hospitals,”Â Kasdagly said.Â
Kasdagly, whoÂ wasÂ responsible for information management at Mayo’sÂ department of laboratory medicine and pathology,Â came to the Clinic in large part to build the information technology infrastructure to enable theÂ reference lab expansion. That infrastructure, which will include a 24-hour-a-day call center,Â would enable pathologists to order tests,Â interpret results, and toÂ issue reports andÂ help clients understand those reports, he said.
Eventually, it also would enable pathologists to look at digital images of pathology specimens transmittedÂ from half way around the world, Kottke-Marchant said.
New hires for the expanded laboratory will include medical laboratory technicians, pathologists and clinicians, Kasdagly said. “We’ll be bringing in computer scientists, electrical engineers andÂ customer serviceÂ people,” even sales people, account managers and finance professionals, he said.
Kottke-Marchant already is helping to prepare Northeast Ohio’s workforce to take theÂ medical technology jobs created at the expanded lab. She helped start a medical technology program at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland two years ago.
She’s working with Lakeland, Cuyahoga Community College and several other colleges to start programs to educate histotechnicians (the people who cut and stain tissue for testing), cytotechnologists (people who analyze cells for abnormalities) and pathology assistants.
“It’sÂ exciting to take something that is a small reference lab with the brand of the Cleveland ClinicÂ and make it a national laboratory,” Kasdagly said.