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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 13, 2020 5 months ago

Medical practice digests large growth plans

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Florida Digestive Health Specialists seeks to deliver on the latest in health care trends. 
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Lakewood Ranch physician Dr. Arun Khazanchi takes the future of the medical practice he leads, Florida Digestive Health Specialists, personally.

As in personalized medicine.  

Like many physicians and health care providers, Khazanchi can see medicine is moving fast toward a world where biomarkers, genetic research and tailored treatments dominate health care — no matter the payment system. What makes Khazanchi, and FDHS, different is the bold moves and big investments they are making in personalized medicine to outpace the trend. That includes launching a separate LLC to both protect the practice’s research and develop alternative revenue sources on what officials project will be a national scale.  

‘If I’m successful in finding different biomarkers that can show disease, we can change the way gastroenterologists practice.’ Dr. Domenico Coppola, Florida Digestive Health Specialists

With 355 employees, including 40 gastroenterologists and more than 30 advanced practice providers, FDHS sees some 450,000 patients a year; officials decline to disclose revenue figures. The company is also about to embark on a major expansion project: a 30,000-square-foot office on land near its corporate headquarters, off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard between State Road 70 and State Road 64, about three miles east of Interstate 75. The new facility is expected to break ground in the second half of the year. It includes up to 5,000 square feet of pathology lab space and more room for the Florida Research Institute — another LLC under the FDHS umbrella. Khazanchi says the expansion will cost $6 million to $10 million, with expected completion in mid-2021.

“The future is going to toward preventive medicine, not retroactive medicine,” says Khazanchi, 50, and both president of FDHS and a practicing gastroenterologist. “The traditional type of practice, where you have a problem and a doctor fixes it, that’s what we want to move away from. We want to stay ahead of the game.”

Lori Sax. Dr. Domenico Coppola, right, and Dr. Arun Khazanchi with Florida Digestive Health Specialists, are driving the practice to stay ahead of personalized medicine trends.

At FDHS, staying ahead takes several forms. In addition to the expansion plans, notably, last spring, the practice lured Dr. Domenico Coppola, a professor emeritus of Oncologic Services and Pathology at Moffitt Cancer Center, out of recent retirement. Now Coppola heads up FDHS’s pathology lab and its research arm, FDHS IP LLC. “I tried to retire, but I realized I can’t sit around the house and do nothing,” says Coppola, 65. “I went from doing a lot of nothing to doing a lot.”

Coppola has already begun to make a mark with FDHS and in the gastroenterology field. For one, he and his team of histologists, technicians and pathologists released a study that will help gastroenterologists more quickly determine if a patient is at risk for developing esophageal cancer.  He’s also updating and revamping the testing systems at FDHS’s 24 care centers statewide, spread from Largo to Englewood on the west coast, Titusville to Rockledge on the east coast, and the Destin and Fort Walton areas on the Panhandle. “He’s very well regarded in the field of G.I.,” Khazanchi says.

Internally, Coppola’s work provides a key benefit for FDHS: control of the lab process. Externally, Khazanchi says Coppola’s unit is akin to a startup pharmaceutical company, doing cutting edge work in GI research. The focus is on personalized medicine, with an end goal to make it easier for doctors to diagnose and treat patients. Khazanchi envisions FDHS eventually being able to market some of Coppola’s efforts, though like a drug company, the risk is high, he acknowledges, and the payoff could take a long time. “His expertise in this field, in this area, is incredible,” Khazanchi says. “He’ll be creating things and discovering new uses not currently available.”

That big-picture outlook motivates Coppola, born in Italy and trained in surgical pathology and molecular biology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Jefferson Cancer Institute, among other renowned facilities. He says he long ago grew tired of assembly line-like medical practices, where Band-Aids, not prevention, rule the day. In that, he found a kindred spirit in Khazanchi.

“I’m always thinking about the patient,” Coppola says. “Everything we do has to be done with the patient in mind. If I’m successful in finding different biomarkers that can show disease, we can change the way gastroenterologists practice.”

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