Balancing patient care with cutting-edge research

OldStoryImageSixty years ago when State Senator William Shands and University of Florida President J. Hillis Miller were lobbying the state to locate medical and nursing colleges in Gainesville, they had big dreams for the city as a medical center. Today’s reality must far exceed even their wildest expectations. UF’s massive academic health center, which includes the Shands hospital system, is now a huge part of Alachua County’s economy, funneling millions into salaries and purchases from local vendors.

“Our patients are at the heart of everything we do,” says Dr. David S. Guzick, senior vice president for health affairs and president of the UF&Shands Health System. “What we learn while caring for patients informs our research, our teaching and how we give back to the community, and the knowledge we gain from that interplay circles back into patient care.”

UF’s health center stretches across both sides of Archer Road.

Shands at UF, the flagship of Shands HealthCare, provides a wide range of care, including heart, lung, kidney and bone marrow transplants, plus cancer care and types of brain surgery that can be done in only a few places in the world. One in four of its beds is an intensive-care unit.

The new $388 million Shands Cancer Hospital on the south side of Archer Road includes two state-of-the-art digital radiography rooms and cutting-edge devices that pinpoint radiation in treating tumors.

Helicopters routinely bring accident victims for advanced life-saving care at the new Critical Care Center housed in the cancer hospital.

On the way this summer is a new pediatric emergency room, which will be followed by the creation of the Shands Hospital for Children and Women.

Shands’ Gainesville operations serve patients from all 67 Florida counties and ones from throughout the region, the nation and about a dozen countries each year.

“From primary care and family medicine to sub-specialty, highly complex care, our teams provide North Central Florida with access to incredibly comprehensive services,” says Tim Goldfarb, Shands HealthCare CEO.

The academic health center includes the colleges of medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, public health and health professions and veterinary medicine.

In addition to training health-care professionals, the colleges conduct research aimed at uncovering cures for a variety of difficult diseases, with UF doctors then using the new medicines and treatments in clinical trials.

“We help make the transition of science from the laboratory to the bedside,” says Dr. Timothy Flynn, senior associate dean for clinical affairs for the College of Medicine and chief medical officer for Shands at UF.

Beyond the Archer Road area, Shands HealthCare and the Health Science Center have satellite facilities across Gainesville.

Shands Vista, a substance-abuse treatment center, and the Shands Rehabilitation Hospital are in a health park north of 39th Avenue and east of I-75.

Clinics for orthopedics and sports medicine, movement disorders, sleep disorders and other treatment are elsewhere in the city.

Shands and UF officials plan to add a new primary care center on Main Street north of 16th Avenue to provide expanded services to residents on the east side of the city.

Unprecedented Growth

Along with a growing number of facilities around the city, Shands’ main health complex is in the midst of a dramatic makeover:

The Shands Cancer Hospital was completed in 2010.

Thanks to a nearly $15 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the UF Institute on Aging will soon start building an almost 40,000-square-foot complex for clinical and translational research.

The Emerging Pathogens Institute opened an 80,000-square-foot building last year that will be used to study infectious diseases.

The Biomedical Sciences Building opened in 2010. The 163,000-square-foot facility houses researchers in medicine, engineering, public health and health professions.

Research is driving much of the growth. The College of Medicine alone attracts hundreds of millions of dollars in out-of-state research funding and more National Institutes of Health federal funding than any other public university in Florida. According to projections from a study by Tripp Umbach, a Pittsburgh consulting firm, the College of Medicine and Shands HealthCare contributed an estimated $15 billion to the state’s economy between 2005 to 2009.

Improving Information Flow

One of Shands’ biggest current investments today isn’t in a building or staff. Rather, the organization is spending $105 million to make most of its records electronic.

The transition is a massive undertaking, involving transferring information from paper charts, installing new software and equipment and training workers.

The payoff will be huge, says Dr. Whit Curry, chairman of the medical school’s Department of Community Health and Family Medicine.

Moving from paper medical records is like going from letter-writing to Facebook. “All of a patient’s records will be available online at the same time to everyone involved in his or her care,” Curry says.

Each specialist treating a patient will be able to see all the medications a patient is taking. “It’s a far cry from when we used to have patients bring their medicine bottles into the office in a paper sack,” he says.

Advancing Care

The University of Florida has been home to medical discoveries that are helping patients around the world.

They include:

Gatorade, the most widely recognized product to come out of research at the College of Medicine;

Trusopt, a drug that greatly improved the treatment of glaucoma;

PerioGlas, a product that restores eroded bone around teeth;

Lab-grown skin grafts for burn victims;

A test that can determine whether a patient has insulin-dependent diabetes years before symptoms appear; and

Gene therapy to treat a rare form of inherited blindness.

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