By Jeremy Manier
Photo by Robert Kozloff

The new Center for Care and Discovery brings together the University’s strengths in medical care and innovation.”
—Robert J. Zimmer
President, University of Chicago

The new Center for Care and Discovery is built around the idea that providing excellent care for patients is closely tied to advances in biomedical research and innovation. 

When it opens in February, the vast center will unlock new possibilities for medical research and patient care. At an academic medical center with a tradition of making historic advances in medicine and treatment, physicians will have access to technology that enables even more advanced work. The Center will be home to the robotic surgery program and will feature telemedicine capabilities and large operating rooms that can accommodate hybrid procedures requiring multidisciplinary surgical teams.

Attention to the individual patient also is integral to the hospital’s design, with 240 private patient rooms large enough to accommodate visiting families. Such a focus on patients not only increases comfort, it also can improve treatment outcomes.

As part of the mission to develop patient-centered care, in 2011 the University launched the Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence, devoted to fostering effective communication and decision-making between doctors and their patients. The Center for Care and Discovery will unite that dedication to patients with the latest treatments for a range of complex medical conditions.

“Caring for patients is a profound responsibility that requires the University’s commitment to excellence on many fronts,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “It depends on the global leadership of our faculty in research and new treatments, constant attention to quality and technological innovation, and a deep concern for our community, the people of our region, and those from around the world who seek treatment at our hospitals.”

“The new Center for Care and Discovery brings together the University’s strengths in medical care and innovation,” Zimmer said. “The result will be a powerful benefit for patients, and a model for physicians and researchers from around the world.”

The 10-story structure is strategically located near the Gordon Center for Integrative Science and the Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery, two world-class research facilities that strive to bring fundamental scientific discoveries made in the lab to the patient bedside. Thanks to this close proximity, the new hospital will allow for greater links between clinical providers and researchers working on the next generation of treatments, said Kenneth S. Polonsky, dean of the Biological Sciences Division and Pritzker School of Medicine and executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Chicago.

"Our researchers believe that major medical advances will be driven by discoveries in genomics, computation, and other areas," Polonsky said. “The Center for Care and Discovery will allow us to ask and then answer profound, difficult questions in all these areas of medicine. That will help us attract even more of the best clinicians and researchers, who will use state-of-the-art technology to make a fundamental impact on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease.”

A hospital built for innovative medical care

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new hospital is planned for Jan. 14, and the facility is scheduled to open to patients Feb. 23. In recent months, tours have offered community members an advance look inside the 10-story building, which at 1.2 million square feet is one of the largest structures on the South Side of Chicago. 

The Center for Care and Discovery ultimately will expand the number of general operating rooms from 17 to 24, with room for up to 28. That is in addition to existing ORs in the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine and Comer Children’s Hospital.

The rooms in the new hospital are significantly larger than previous operating rooms, in part to accommodate two teams working together, such as a surgical team and a group specializing in cardiac catheterization.

Such large operating spaces also can accommodate more robotic surgical procedures. Some ORs will be designated “robot rooms,” with new, larger robotic systems that can allow two surgeons to work simultaneously at separate control consoles. Robotic surgery is a minimally invasive approach that enables surgeons to use small incisions for complex medical procedures.  Minimally invasive operations typically reduce surgical recovery times and shorten hospital stays. A smaller incision also cuts the risk of infection.

“With the Center for Care and Discovery, we have a living laboratory that will transform how we care for patients, using leading-edge technology and innovative research to deliver advanced clinical treatments,” said Sharon O’Keefe, president of the University of Chicago Medical Center. “The new hospital is the latest step in a long history of innovation, from development of novel cancer treatments and medical imaging to advances in minimally invasive surgery and organ transplantation.”

All new operating rooms will be equipped with video connections, allowing medical teams in Chicago to collaborate with colleagues anywhere in the world. Such connections also can facilitate medical education and eventually could allow for the remote diagnosis of diseases.

“What we want out of a building long-term is great discoveries, so what we do in 10 years, even five years, reflects what we have learned from our patients,” said Everett Vokes, chair of the Department of Medicine. “Our goal is to learn from every patient we treat.”

Medical leaders wanted to address the changing medical landscape in the design of the new facility. They learned from the experiences of previous hospitals nationwide, which often haphazardly grew as needs arose or technology advanced. The new UChicago hospital is built on the assumption that change is inevitable and unpredictable. Its design uses a grid system that can be adapted to new uses and configurations in the future. Two floors of the building are currently unused, allowing for growth over time within the existing structure.

“The design of the building incorporates technology in ways that are adaptable to the future,” said Jeffrey B. Matthews, chair of the Department of Surgery. “At the same time we’re focusing on the need to put patients and families at the center of care.”

Giving research a head start

The Center for Care and Discovery will allow clinician-scientists like Ravi Salgia, MD, PhD, to walk from his laboratory at the Knapp Center, where he works with various models of lung cancer, across the street to the new hospitals—the ideal setting for clinical testing of promising therapies.

"Such a close bond between a university and an academic medical center is rare," said Salgia, director of the Thoracic Oncology Program and vice chair for translational research. "The new hospital will speed the translation from laboratory to treatment to enhance the quality of life and survival for patients with cancer."

One innovative research project tied to the opening of the building is designed to help protect patients from hospital-acquired infections. Such infections are a fact of life at all hospitals, but researcher Jack Gilbert, PhD, will have the unusual opportunity to thoroughly track bacteria at the hospital before and after it opens. Gilbert, an assistant professor of ecology and evolution at UChicago and an environmental microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory, calls the initiative the Hospital Microbiome Project. The ultimate goal is to improve patient care and reduce hospital-acquired infections.

“We’re going to determine how good and bad bacteria co-exist in a hospital, and how the good can keep out the bad,” Gilbert said in an article published by Arete, a University research accelerator.

Some of the most important innovation at the hospital will involve intangible aspects of the doctor-patient relationship. As director of the Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence, renowned medical ethicist Mark Siegler is leading a major effort to train medical students, junior faculty, and senior clinicians to improve doctor-patient communication and clinical decision-making.

The effort grew in part from Siegler’s own experience as a physician caring for Matthew and Carolyn “Kay” Bucksbaum. The Bucksbaum Family Foundation donated $42 million to the University to create the Institute, which embodies Siegler’s maxim, “To care for a patient, you have to care about a patient.” By placing so much emphasis on the patients and families whom research is meant to benefit, the new hospital also will help advance the cause of the Bucksbaum Institute, Siegler said.

“The entire hospital is designed to facilitate that mission that Kay and I are so concerned about, which is to improve doctor-patient relationships, and ultimately to improve patient care,” Siegler said.