Meet Michigan Medicine Laboratories

December 11, 2019  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

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Consider this scenario: A patient is admitted to a local hospital in rural Kansas. Doctors there are unable to diagnosis their condition — and the facility doesn’t have the necessary resources to carry out complex pathological tests.

So how does the patient get diagnosed and, in the end, get the care they need? Much of that work may be done by Michigan Medicine experts a thousand miles away, all thanks to the team behind Michigan Medicine Laboratories (MLabs).

Here’s what you may not know about MLabs, which facilitates complex pathological testing with outside organizations, allowing Michigan Medicine to provide exceptional care both at home and across the globe.

Taking care of logistics

Michigan Medicine Laboratories — which was previously known officially as MLabs — is made up of 23 full-time employees.

“We serve as the logistical and administrative team that helps other organizations submit specimens for consultation and testing at Michigan Medicine,” said Julia Dahl, M.D., associate director of MLabs. “Then we utilize all of the people, talent and technology in the Department of Pathology to carry out the testing before our team once again steps in to facilitate getting those results back to the client.”

Among the customers MLabs serves are those that have strategic partnerships with the organization, such as MidMichigan Health, and outside organizations, including community hospitals in the region, hospital-affiliated pathologists and other commercial laboratories across the U.S.

“We consult with doctors and clinicians at those organizations, which ensures patients in those facilities get the care they need,” Dahl said. “We’ve become one of the go-to organizations for such consultation work, doubling our volume over the past 10 years.”

Improving care at home

At first glance, it may seem as though testing being performed for outside organizations could take away from the services available to Michigan Medicine patients themselves. Dahl said that couldn’t be further from the truth.

First, the Department of Pathology has the resources and capacity to offer their services to help other organizations around the world, especially in its new expanded facility at the North Campus Research Complex. Secondly, bringing in more volume of cases makes the organization’s laboratory professionals and pathologists better at their jobs.

“Heart surgeons get better at a certain procedure the more they carry it out,” Dahl said. “In much the same way, pathologists get better at what they do the more they do it. So a disease that used to take a pathologist 30 minutes to diagnose may now only take them five. It helps us see more and more specimens and treat more and more patients with a high level of expertise.”

Finally, bringing in outside specimens allows Michigan Medicine to offer complex and unique services that would never be financially or logistically feasible with only the organization’s patient base.

“When there are tests that would only be necessary 2-3 times per month for our patients, it wouldn’t make sense for us to carry the equipment and experts needed to offer it,” Dahl said. “But if you add outside patients to our customer base, we may now need to carry the test out 50-75 times per month. That improves service delivery levels for Michigan Medicine patients and providers.”

It also raises the organization’s standing as a destination for complex patient care.

Serving as brand ambassadors

In the end, Michigan Medicine Laboratories often serves as the face of the organization.

“We may be the first interaction outside facilities have with Michigan Medicine,” Dahl said. “But our goal is not to be the last interaction they have.”

For instance, if MLabs is able to diagnose a rare form of cancer, the team may then refer the community hospital’s oncologist to a Michigan Medicine oncologist. That could lead to more patient referrals and would allow the organization’s faculty and staff to impact as many lives as possible.

“Our pathology work extends Michigan Medicine’s reach into faraway places,” Dahl said. “We know that there are countless ways in which our faculty, staff and patients benefit from our services. And that’s a responsibility we take very seriously.”

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