DURING THE NEXT FEW YEARS, clinical laboratories and pathology group practices can expect to see the pace of change in healthcare and laboratory medicine accelerate. As that occurs, lab directors and pathologists will need to be faster at responding to evolving threats and opportunities.
Our selection of the “Top Ten Lab Industry Stories for 2006” makes my point. For example, take the bombshell announcement by UnitedHealth Group, Inc. in October that it was dropping Quest Diagnostics Incorporated as a provider on its national lab services contract. That left Laboratory Corporation of America as the sole national laboratory provider.
However, UnitedHealth’s decision also creates an opportunity for nimble regional laboratories. In a number of communities, UnitedHealth has reached out to establish a tighter relationship with selected regional laboratory providers. These newly-recast relationships open the door for those local laboratories to expand market share, particularly in cities where Quest Diagnostics has a significant presence, but will now no longer be a UnitedHealth contract provider.
Our second most important “Top Ten” lab industry story for 2006 is the literal explosion of interest by urologists and gastroenterologists to build laboratories and make anatomic pathology an in-house ancillary service for their group practices. This is having a devastating impact on national pathology lab companies as well as private practice pathologists based in community hospitals. Urologists and GIs typically refer a high volume of biopsies. Loss of those specimens and their associated revenues is proving disastrous to many pathology laboratories.
There’s another growing trend that has the potential to negatively affect the cash flow of clinical laboratories and pathology group practices. As more Americans enroll in high-deductible health plans and HSAs (health savings accounts), it means that laboratories will need to collect larger amounts of money directly from the patient. In fact, I predict that improved billing and collections will become a major business priority for most laboratories because of this fact. These are just three trends in our Top Ten list which illustrate how healthcare’s pace of change is accelerating.