University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), Switzerland – A Prominent Center of Pediatric Research and Medicine
Author: Gail S. Thornton, M.A.
Co-Editor: The VOICES of Patients, Hospital CEOs, HealthCare Providers, Caregivers and Families: Personal Experience with Critical Care and Invasive Medical Procedures
University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich — http://www.kispi.uzh.ch), in Switzerland, is the largest specialized, child and adolescent hospital in the country and one of the leading research centers for pediatric and youth medicine in Europe. The hospital, which has about 220 beds, numerous outpatient clinics, a day clinic, an interdisciplinary emergency room, and a specialized rehabilitation center, is a non-profit private institution that offers a comprehensive range of more than 40 medical sub-specializations, including heart conditions, bone marrow transplantation and burns. There are approximately 2,200 physicians, nurses, and other allied health care and administrative personnel employed at the hospital.
Just as important, the hospital houses the Children’s Research Center (CRC), the first research center in Switzerland that is solely dedicated to pediatric research, and is on par with the largest children’s clinics in the world. The research center provides a strong link between research and clinical experience to ensure that the latest scientific findings are made available to patients and implemented in life-saving therapies. By developing highly precise early diagnoses, innovative therapeutic approaches and effective new drugs, the researchers aim to provide a breakthrough in prevention, treatment and cure of common and, especially, rare diseases in children.
Several significant milestones have been reached over the past year. One important project under way is approval by the hospital management board and Zurich city council to construct a new building, projected to be completed in 2021. The new Children’s Hospital will constitute two main buildings; one building will house the hospital with around 200 beds, and the other building will house university research and teaching facilities.
In the ongoing quest for growing demands for quality, safety and efficiency that better serve patients and their families, the hospital management established a new role of Chief Operating Officer. This new position is responsible for the daily operation of the hospital, focusing on safety and clinical results, building a service culture and producing strong financial results. Greater emphasis on clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction and partnering with physicians, nurses, and other medical and administrative staff is all part of developing a thriving and lasting hospital culture.
Recently, the hospital’s Neurodermatitis Unit in cooperation with Christine Kuehne – Center for Allergy Research and Education (CK-Care), one of Europe’s largest private initiatives in the field of allergology, has won the “Interprofessionality Award” from the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences. This award highlights best practices among doctors, nurses and medical staff in organizations who work together to diagnose and treat the health and well-being of patients, especially children with atopic dermatitis and their families.
At the northern end of Lake Zurich and between the mountain summit of the Uetliberg and Zurichberg, Children’s Hospital is located in the center of the residential district of Hottingen.
Image SOURCE: Photograph courtesy of Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), Switzerland. Interior and exterior photographs of the hospital.
Below is my interview with Hospital Director and Chief Executive Officer Markus Malagoli, Ph.D., which occurred in December, 2016.
How do you keep the spirit of innovation alive?
Dr. Malagoli: Innovation in an organization, such as the University Children’s Hospital, correlates to a large extent on the power to attract the best and most innovative medical team and administrative people. It is our hope that by providing our employees with the time and financial resources to undertake needed research projects, they will be opened to further academic perspectives. At first sight, this may seem to be an expensive opportunity. However, in the long run, we have significant research under way in key areas which benefits children ultimately. It also gives our hospital the competitive edge in providing quality care and helps us recruit the best physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers and administrative staff.
The Children’s Hospital Zurich is nationally and internationally positioned as highly specialized in the following areas:
- Cardiology and cardiac surgery: pediatric cardiac center,
- Neonatal and malformation surgery as well as fetal surgery,
- Neurology and neurosurgery as well as neurorehabilitation,
- Oncology, hematology and immunology as well as oncology and stem cell transplants,
- Metabolic disorders and endocrinology as well as newborn screening, and
- Combustion surgery and plastic reconstructive surgery.
We provide patients with our special medical expertise, as well as an expanded knowledge and new insights into the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prophylaxis of diseases, accidents or deformities. We have more than 40 medical disciplines that cover the entire spectrum of pediatrics as well as child and youth surgery.
As an example, for many years, we have treated all congenital and acquired heart disease in children. Since 2004, specialized heart surgery and post-operative care in our cardiac intensive care unit have been carried out exclusively in our child-friendly hospital. A separate heart operation area was set up for this purpose. The children’s heart center also has a modern cardiac catheter laboratory for children and adolescents with all diagnostic and catheter-interventional therapeutic options. Heart-specific non-invasive diagnostic possibilities using MRI are available as well as a large cardiology clinic with approximately 4,500 outpatient consultations per year. In April 2013, a special ward only for cardiac patients was opened and our nursing staff is highly specialized in the care of children with heart problems.
In addition to the advanced medical diagnostics and treatment of children, we also believe in the importance of caring and supporting families of sick children with a focus on their psychosocial well-being. For this purpose, a team of specialized nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers are available. Occasionally, the children and their families need rehabilitation and we work with a team of specialists to plan and organize the best in-house or out-patient rehabilitation for the children and their families.
We also provide therapeutic, rehabilitation and social services that encompass nutritional advice, art and expression therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, psychomotor therapy, a helpline for rare diseases, pastoral care, social counseling, and even hospital clowns. Our hospital teams work together to provide our patients with the best care so they are on the road to recovery in the fastest possible way.
What draws patients to Children’s Hospital?
Dr. Malagoli: Our hospital depends heavily on complex, interdisciplinary cases. For many diagnosis and treatments, our hospital is the last resort for children and adolescents in Switzerland and even across other countries. Our team is fully committed to the welfare of the patients they treat in order to deal with complex medical cases, such as diseases and disorders of the musculo-skeletal system and connective tissue, nervous system, respiratory system, digestive system, and ear, nose and throat, for example.
Most of our patients come from Switzerland and other cantons within the country, yet other patients come from as far away as Russia and the Middle East. Our hospital sees about 80,000 patients each year in the outpatient clinic for conditions, such as allergic pulmonary diseases, endocrinology and diabetology, hepatology, and gastroenterology; about 7,000 patients a year are seen for surgery; and about 37,000 patients a year are treated in the emergency ward.
We believe that parents are not visitors; they belong to the sick child’s healing, growth, and development. This guiding principle is a challenge for us, because we care not only for sick children, but also for their families, who may need personal or financial resources. Many of our services for parents, for example, are not paid by the Swiss health insurance and we depend strongly on funds from private institutions. We want to convey the feeling of security to children and adolescents of all ages and we involve the family in the recovery process.
What are the hospital’s strengths?
Dr. Malagoli: A special strength of our hospital is the interdisciplinary thinking of our teams. In addition to the interdisciplinary emergency and intensive care units, there are several internal institutionalized meetings, such as the uro-nephro-radiological conference on Mondays, the oncological conference and the gastroenterological meeting on Tuesdays, and the pneumological case discussion on Wednesdays, where complex cases are discussed among our doctors. Foreign doctors are welcome to these meetings, and cases are also discussed at the appropriate external medical conferences.
Can you discuss some of the research projects under way at the Children’s Research Center (CRC)?
Dr. Malagoli: Our Children’s Research Center, the first research center in Switzerland focused on pediatric research, works closely with our hospital team. From basic research to clinical application, the hospital’s tasks in research and teaching is at the core of the Children’s Research Center for many young and established researchers and, ultimately, also for patients.
Our research projects focus on:
- Behavior of the nervous, metabolic, cardiovascular and immune system in all stages of growth and development of the child’s condition,
- Etiology (causes of disease) and treatment of genetic diseases,
- Tissue engineering of the skin and skin care research: from a few cells of a child, complex two-layered skin is produced in the laboratory for life-saving measures after severe burns and treatment of congenital anomalies of the skin,
- Potential treatment approaches of the most severe infectious diseases, and
- Cancer diseases of children and adolescents.
You are making great strides in diagnostic work in the areas of Hematology, Immumology, Infectiology and Oncology. Would you elaborate on this particular work that is taking place at the hospital?
Dr. Malagoli: The Department of Image Diagnostics handles radiological and ultrasonographic examinations, and the numerous specialist labs offer a complete range of laboratory diagnostics.
The laboratory center makes an important contribution to the clarification and treatment of disorders of immune defense, blood and cancer, as well as infections of all kinds and severity. Our highly specialized laboratories offer a large number of analyzes which are necessary in the assessment of normal and pathological cell functions and take into account the specifics and requirements of growth and development in children and infants.
The lab center also participates in various clinical trials and research projects. This allows on-going validation and finally introducing the latest test methods.
The laboratory has been certified as ISO 9001 by the Swiss Government since 2002 and has met the quality management system requirements on meeting patient expectations and delivering customer satisfaction. The interdisciplinary cooperation and careful communication of the laboratory results are at the center of our activities. Within the scope of our quality assurance measures, we conduct internal quality controls on a regular basis and participate in external tests. Among other things, the work of the laboratory center is supervised by the cantonal medicine committee and Swissmedic organization.
Additionally, the Metabolism Laboratory offers a wide variety of biochemical and molecular diagnostic analysis, including those for the following areas:
- Disorders in glycogen and fructose metabolism,
- Lysosomal disorders,
- Disorders of biotin and vitamin B12 metabolism,
- Urea cycle disorders and Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD),
- Congenital disorders of protein glycosylation, and
- Hereditary disorders of connective tissue, such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Marfan Syndrome.
Screening for newborn conditions is equally important. The Newborn Screening Laboratory examines all newborn children in Switzerland for congenital metabolic and hormonal diseases. Untreated, the diseases detected in the screening lead in most cases to serious damage to different organs, but especially to the development of the brain. Thanks to the newborn screening, the metabolic and hormonal diseases that are being sought can be investigated by means of modern methods shortly after birth. For this, only a few drops of blood are necessary, which are taken from the heel on the third or fourth day after birth. On a filter paper strip, these blood drops are sent to the laboratory of the Children’s Hospital Zurich, where they are examined for the following diseases:
- Phenylketonuria (PKU),
- MCAD deficiency,
- Adrenogenital Syndrome (AGS),
- Biotinide deficiency,
- Cystic Fibrosis (CF),
- Glutaraziduria Type 1 (GA-1), and
- Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD).
Ongoing physician medical education and executive training is important for the overall well-being of the hospital. Would you describe the program and the courses?
Dr. Malagoli: We place a high priority on medical education and training with a focus on children, youth, and their families. The various departments of the hospital offer regular specialist training courses for interested physicians at regular intervals. Training is available in the following areas:
- Developmental Pediatrics,
- Clinical Chemistry and Biochemistry,
- Pediatrics, and
As a training hospital, we have built an extensive network or relationships with physicians in Switzerland as well as other parts of the world, who take part in our ongoing medical education opportunities that focus on specialized pediatrics and pediatric surgery. Also, newly trained, young physicians who are in private practice or affiliated with other children’s hospitals often take part in our courses.
We also offer our hospital management and leaders from other organizations professional development in the areas of leadership or specialized competence training. We believe that all executives in leadership or management roles contribute significantly to our success and to a positive working climate. That is why we have developed crucial training in specific, work-related courses, including planning and communications skills, professional competence, and entrepreneurial development.
How is Children’s Hospital transforming health care?
Dr. Malagoli: The close cooperation between doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers is a key success factor in transforming health care. We strive for comprehensive child care that does not only focus on somatic issues but also on psychological support for patients and their families and social re-integration. However, it becomes more and more difficult to finance all the necessary support services.
Many supportive services, for example, for parents and families of sick children are not paid by health insurance in Switzerland and we do not receive financial support from the Swiss Government. Since 2012, we have the Swiss Diagnosis Related Groups (DRG) guidelines, a new tariff system for inpatient hospital services, that regulates costs for treatment in hospitals all over the country and those costs do not consider the amount of extra services we provide for parents and families as a children’s hospital. Those DRG principles mostly are for hospitals who treat adult patients.
Since you stepped into your role as CEO, how have you changed the way that you deliver health care?
Dr. Malagoli: I have definitely not reinvented health care! Giving my staff the space for individual development and the chance to realize their ideas is probably my main contribution to our success. Working with children is for many people motivating and enriching. We benefit from that, too. Moreover, we have managed to build up a culture of confidence and mutual respect – we call it the “Kispi-spirit”. “Kispi” as abbreviation of “Kinderspital.” Please visit our special recruiting site, which is www.kispi-spirit.ch.
I can think of a few examples where our doctors and medical teams have made a difference in the lives of our patients. Two of our physicians – PD (Privatdozent, a private university teacher) Dr. med. Alexander Moller and Dr. med. Florian Singer, Ph.D. – are involved in the development of new pulmonary functions tests which allow us to diagnose chronic lung diseases at an early stage in young children.
- Often times, newly born babies have a lung disease but do not show any specific symptoms, such as coughing. One of these new tests measures lung function based on inhaling and exhaling pure oxygen, rather than using the standard spirometry test used in children and adults to assess how well an infant’s lungs work by measuring how much air they inhale, how much they exhale and how quickly they exhale. The new test is currently part of a clinical routine in children with cystic fibrosis as well as in clinical trials in Europe. The test is so successful that the European Respiratory Society presented Dr. med. Singer, Ph.D., with the ‘Pediatric Research Award’ in 2015.
- Another significant research question among the pediatric pulmonary disease community is how asthma can be diagnosed reliably and at an earlier stage. PD Dr. med. Moller, chief physician of Pneumology at the hospital, has high hopes in a new way to measure exhaled air via mass spectrometry. If it succeeds, it will be able to evaluate changes in the lungs of asthmatics or help with more specific diagnoses of pneumonia.
In what ways have you built greater transparency, accountability and quality improvement for the benefit of patients?
Dr. Malagoli: Apart from the quality measures which are prescribed by Swiss law, we have decided not to strive for quality certifications and accreditations. We focus on outcome quality, record our results in quality registers and compare our outcome internationally with the best in class.
Our team of approximately 2,200 specialized physicians largely comes from Switzerland, although we have attracted a number of doctors from countries such as Germany, Portugal, Italy, Austria, and even Serbia, Turkey, Macedonia, Slovakia, and Croatia.
We recently conducted an employee satisfaction survey, which showed about 88 percent of employees were very satisfied or satisfied with their working conditions at the hospital and the job we are doing with patients and their families. This ranking is particularly gratifying for us as a service provider for the children and families we serve.
How does your volunteer program help families better deal with hospitalized children?
Dr. Malagoli: We have an enormous commitment from volunteers to care for hospitalized children and we are grateful to them. We offer our patients and their families child care, dog therapy, and even parenting by the Aladdin Foundation, a volunteer visiting service for hospitalized children to relieve parents and relatives and help young patients stay in hospital to recover quickly. The volunteers visit the child in the absence of the parents and are fully briefed on the child’s condition and care plan. The handling of care request usually takes no more than 24 hours and is free of charge. The assignments range from one-off visits to daily care for several weeks.
Image SOURCE: Photograph of Hospital Director and Chief Executive Officer Markus Malagoli, Ph.D., courtesy of Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), Switzerland.
Markus Malagoli, Ph.D.
Director and Chief Executive Officer
Markus Malagoli, Ph.D., has been Hospital Director and Chief Executive Officer of the University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), since 2007.
Prior to his current role, Dr. Malagoli served as Chairman of Hospital Management and Head of Geriatrics of the Schaffhausen-Akutspital, the only public hospital in the Canton of Schaffhausen, from 2003 through 2007, where he was responsible for 10 departments, including surgery, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, rheumatology/rehabilitation, throat and nose, eyes, radiology, anesthesia, hospital pharmacy and administration. The hospital employs approximately 1,000 physicians, nursing staff, other medical personal, as well as administration and operational services employees. On average, around 9,000 individuals are treated in the hospital yearly. Previously, he was Administrative Director at the Hospital from 1996 through 2003.
Dr. Malagoli began his career at Ciba-Geigy in 1985, spending 11 years in the company. He worked in Business Accounting in Basel, and a few years later, became Head of the Production Information System department in Basel. He then was transferred to Ciba-Geigy in South Africa as Controller/Treasurer and returned to Basel as Project Manager for the SAP Migration Project in Accounting.
Dr. Malagoli received his B.A. degree in Finance and Accounting and a Ph.D. in Business Administration at the University of St. Gallen.
He is a member of the Supervisory Board of Schaffhausen-Akutspital and President of the Ungarbühl in Schaffhausen, a dormitory for individuals with developmental impairments.
We would like to thank Manuela Frey, communications manager, University Children’s Hospital Zurich, for the help and support she provided during this interview.
University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich — http://www.kispi.uzh.ch)
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