Ascendium Consulting Is New Firm In Lab Market

Demand by labs for strategic and operational consulting services encourages new company

CEO SUMMARY: Growing numbers of laboratories are taking steps to reengineer work flow, evaluate automation solutions, and improve the operational performance of their laboratory. This is fueling a demand for laboratory consulting services and Ascendium Consulting is this newest healthcare and lab consulting company in this marketplace. It became operational on January 1, 2008, as a result of Roche Diagnostics, Inc.’s decision to divest its Healthcare Solutions business unit.

THERE’S A NEW NATIONAL CONSULTING FIRM in healthcare and the lab industry. On January 1, 2008, Ascendium Consulting launched operations.

Ascendium Consulting was created when Roche Diagnostics, Inc. divested its Healthcare Solutions consulting services division. Private investors joined together with executives from Healthcare Solutions to form the new company.

“All of the lab consultants and business development professionals from Healthcare Services joined us at Ascendium,” said Trent Ritzenthaler, President and Managing Partner of Ascendium Consulting, based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Offering Other Services

The birth of Ascendium Consulting shows some of the tension experienced by in vitro diagnostics (IVD) manufacturers as they develop different value added services to supplement their core business of instruments, reagents and consumables. These value added services are used to enhance ongoing relationships with lab customers.

THE DARK REPORT believes that Roche Diagnostics recognized that, by offering strategic management and operational consulting services to laboratory clients, it was encountering two issues. One, it wanted the consulting services division to generate incremental revenue for the organization through fee-based, objective consulting services.

Two, even though there was an arms-length relationship between the consulting division and the larger company, the consulting services could be viewed as biased towards Roche products. Healthcare Solutions was often involved in helping improve workflow, redesign physical space, and develop the entire infrastructure for newly formed diagnostic facilities. In that role, clients often sought direction on specific products, giving rise to a potential identity conflict.

Finally, the primary business at Roche Diagnostics is selling analyzers, instrument systems, reagents, and other consumables. Thus, it is likely that, on balance, Roche decided the added value generated by the laboratory consulting business unit was not enough to compensate for the different complications that accompany a consulting relationship with a lab customer. Thus, the decision to divest the consulting services division.

For Ascendium Consulting, its status as an independent company means a new start and a new opportunity to sell its strategic, operational and information technology consulting services to a national healthcare market. “Because our professionals have an average of over 20 years experience in healthcare, and because all of our active clients agreed to stay with us, our new enterprise started fast and is already growing,” observed Ritzenthaler.

Improving Lab Operations

According to Ritzenthaler, Ascendium sees strong interest by laboratories to improve operations in three areas. “There is much interest in Lean and Six Sigma and quality management methods,” he explained. “Lab directors and pathologists are recognizing that laboratories operating from these principles are performing at a higher level than conventionally-managed laboratories.

“There are enough success stories in the public domain now that hospital lab directors have plenty of evidence and ammunition to take to their administration and demonstrate why introducing Lean and Six Sigma quality management methods into the laboratory will be a winning strategy,” he continued.

Molecular Is A Growth Field

“Next, a number of our engagements have focused on molecular laboratory design and operation,” stated Ritzenthaler. “Because this is both a new field in laboratory science and one that is growing exponentially, many laboratories must either create a brand new space in the lab to handle molecular testing—or these labs need to expand existing molecular lab space, facilities, and expertise.

“The third major trend we see in our consulting practice is the adoption and implementation of automation,” he said. “This is not limited to the high volume chemistry and hematology core lab. Because of new instrument systems and automation solutions, it is now possible to automate other departments in the laboratory.”

Ritzenthaler also identified another development that has caught the attention of pathologists and laboratory administrators. “A related trend involves the focus on measuring quality,” he added. “Throughout healthcare, there is pressure to measure quality and be accountable for quality.

“In part, we’re seeing this trend because payers are tying reimbursement to quality. Payers have seen that lab errors—such as when a pathology report is delivered to the wrong individual—can be very serious. Errors like these will be the target of lab efforts to improve the consistency and performance of individual work processes within the laboratory.

Labs Helping Providers

“Another dimension of the trend to measure quality is that the customers of diagnostic services—physicians, hospitals, and other providers—are paying attention to their outcomes and looking for ways to improve,” he noted. “Smart lab managers and pathologists are recrafting their laboratory operations and performance to support the efforts of payers to reduce medical errors and improve patient outcomes.”

Ritzenthaler’s observations about the active steps laboratory leaders are taking to improve operations, streamline workflow, and deliver increased quality are consistent with what THE DARK REPORT observes across the laboratory industry. For that reason, Ascendium Consulting is entering the marketplace at an auspicious time.

Moreover, Ritzenthaler’s comments about the booming interest in creating new molecular services or expanding existing molecular testing facilities hints at Ascendium’s likely business strategy. It wants to emphasize this experience in tandem with its strategic and operational capabilities.

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