What happens if after filling 7,500 square feet of prime commercial real estate with what you consider a state-of-the-art surgery center, you still have more than 2,288 square feet to fill?
Confronted with such a delicious dilemma, officials at 406-bed Saint Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., knew only that they wanted to do something different, says Amelia Korab, vice president of support services. A few months after they opened a brand-new ambulatory surgery center, they hit upon the idea of a virtual training center that specializes in minimally invasive surgery.
Launched in July, the Surgical Skills Center uses Saint Peter's teaching relationship with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School as well as its community relationship with healthcare companies such as Johnson & Johnson, which shares the New Brunswick skyline.
Saint Peter's recruited W. Peter Geis, M.D., from 414-bed St. Joseph Medical Center, Towson, Md., where he built a similar program that has since closed.
A kind of video arcade for surgeons, the Surgical Skills Center has interactive workstations using everything from arthroscopes to voice-controlled robotic arms. High-tech surgical techniques are practiced on plastic models and cadaver parts (no live-animal subjects). The laboratory is also equipped with the latest in teleconferencing so that long-distance consultations with Geis and his staff are just a video screen away.
Geis, who also is chairman of Saint Peter's surgery department, says the center offers a number of business opportunities in addition to its obvious role as a training ground for surgical residents and hospital physicians.
Over the next three years, Saint Peter's plans to use the center as an incubator for companies that want to evaluate new technologies or train doctors in the technologies' use. In the long term, Geis envisions partnerships with industry to develop new surgical techniques, then sharing patents and royalties.
For its first year, Geis expects 50 revenue-making programs to run through the laboratory. That capacity should double to 100 programs by the second year. On that basis, a training center of this kind can generate as much as $600,000 in annual revenue, he estimates.
Start-up costs included $300,000 for construction and $1 million in equipment, Korab says. Some of the high-tech equipment, such as the Aesop robot manufactured by Computer Motion, Santa Barbara, Calif., is on loan.