A Personalized Approach to Pathology

Medlab Pathology

Medlab Pathology is one of the largest, privately owned independent pathology practices in Australia. The company offers a full range of pathology services to nursing homes, general practitioners, and medical centres throughout the Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle regions. Mr Fred Kassem and two pathologists launched Medlab in 2001 because they were dissatisfied with the direction that the industry was heading – i.e. the decline of privately owned pathology practices.

Since its founding eleven years ago, Medlab has enjoyed significant growth and has become a favourite pathology practice of many local physicians. The team credits much of their success on the unique personalised service that they, as a smaller, private company, can offer. Physicians working with Medlab can count on top notch customer service. “They can call and speak to the proprietors of the company,” he explains. “They have our personal numbers to call us. I think that is an important part of the business.” Furthermore, the company does all its own marketing, which requires the team to maintain a close relationship with clients. “We visit our doctors on a regular basis,” Mr Kassem reports. “We keep in contact with them.”

Since the company was founded, the team has observed that this level of personalised service is growing increasingly rare as large corporations continue to dominate the industry. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, an announcement was made by one of the largest corporate pathology companies that it was acquiring another large private equity owned pathology business and Mr Kassem sees the takeover as a sign of the times. “The market is shrinking,” he explains. “There are only a few players left in the New South Wales market that are [smaller, privately owned companies].” He does admit, however, that the shifting market has had some positive results for his company. As one of the few pathology practices left that is able to offer this unique personalised service, Medlab stands out even more.

Another advantage of operating a privately owned lab is being able to avoid the delays and headaches associated with unnecessary red tape. When unexpected circumstances arise, the group is able to make a decision on the spot, with no time lost to board meetings or other corporate complications. Due to its smaller size, the team is able to tightly manage each sample and push it through the necessary procedures as efficiently as possible resulting in a quicker turn-around time, so doctors tend to get results faster. The difference is measured in hours, not days, but when a patient is anxiously awaiting results, every minute counts. Medlab also enjoys long-term relationships with a handful of reliable, top quality suppliers. “We’ve been with them since we started,” Mr Kassem reports. “They’ve put their faith in us from the beginning.” The lab is also committed to staying at the forefront of technology by having the latest cutting edge technology equipments and continuing to evolve new assays and perform as many tests in-house as possible.

One thing that Medlab does have in common with the larger corporate practices is that it follows the same set of stringent guidelines to ensure every standard is carefully met including accreditation by National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA). Monitoring, Mr Kassem explains, “is a continuous daily exercise with all assays that are performed in the lab.” The laboratory is also enrolled in The Royal College of Pathologists of Australia (RCPA) Quality Assurance Programs (QAP) and other international QAP programs.

Medlab operates around 90 collection centres conveniently located within medical practices. Each centre is staffed by a qualified collection staff. Samples are also taken from medical practices that collect their own pathology, as well as from hospitals, nursing homes and workplaces. In fact, Medlab will even collect a sample directly from the patient’s home. The company utilises its own complex courier network that collects and delivers samples from all areas which it serves and delivers to the laboratory several times per day, seven days per week.

As soon as samples enter the lab, they go through a round of administrative procedures for quality control purposes. Samples are carefully identified and then double checked to ensure that the correct sample has been received for the correct test, and that all labels have been filled out. Each sample is then given a unique lab number that is used to relay all the necessary information and requirements to the waiting technicians. Detailed information about each sample and the demographics of each patient is also entered into a specialised computer system to further ensure that no mistakes are made.

After all information is confirmed, samples are sent to the proper department; Microbiology, Haematology, Clinical Biochemistry, Blood Bank, Histopathology, Cytology, Immunology, or Molecular Biology. After samples arrive in a department, they are carefully analysed through a variety of mechanisms, under supervision of experienced pathologists. Most testing is fully automated, while other types of analysis are carried out by experienced pathologists and scientists. Test results are downloaded into the computer system and become immediately available to Physicians once validated. Doctors may choose to receive results electronically, in hard copy, or by fax, depending on their preference.

The pathology business has undergone extensive changes in recent years as the market shifts more exclusively to large corporations. Where the industry goes from here, Mr Kassem admits, is anyone’s guess. Regardless of what the future holds, “Our aim is to keep on growing the business and maintain our independence as much as we can,” he reports. Medlab’s growth will remain organic, Mr Kassem adds, and will not involve the acquisition of any other companies. The bottom line, he says, is that Medlab needs to continue giving consumers an option to patronise “the independent company,” and support competition in the marketplace. “I think in any business you need competition,” he explains. “Competition is healthy. Because at the end of the day, the consumer always loses out if there is a monopoly or duopoly.”

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December 16, 2018, 3:52 PM AEDT