Lab Medicine’s Potential Versus Its Challenges

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WE ARE STARTING A NEW YEAR. But is it the start of a new decade? That depends on how one decides to determine the first year of a decade. Even Webster’s Dictionary recognizes this difference of opinion as to the start year of a decade.

For the word “decade,” Webster’s Dictionary offers a definition with two distinctions, as follows. “…2) a period of ten years; esp., in the Gregorian calendar: a) officially a ten-year period beginning with the year 1, as 1921-1930, 1931-1940, etc.; and, b) in common usage, a ten-year period beginning with a year 0, as 1920-1929, 1930-1939, etc.” Therefore, Webster’s provides cover to advocates of either method for measuring the start and finish of an individual decade.

Having provided you with an argument you can use to defend either method of defining the start of a decade, I’d like to share some thoughts on what lies ahead in laboratory medicine for the years that run from 2010 to 2019 (a decade as defined by “common usage,” according to Webster’s).

First is the opportunity. All of us in laboratory medicine will be part of history’s first-ever exploration of the human genome and all the processes associated with the mysteries of life. Science is peeling back the secrets of DNA, RNA, and the human proteome, while at the same time learning practical ways to use this knowledge to heal the sick and improve the health and life of every individual, potentially from the moment of conception to death.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for laboratory medicine. Pathologists and laboratory scientists are poised to contribute immense value to individuals and to society at large. It means that entrepreneurs in lab testing should do well in the coming years by recognizing how to adopt laboratory business models in the new ways necessary to package and deliver valuable diagnostic, therapeutic, and patient-monitoring services to the healthcare system.

On the other hand, the challenge for lab medicine will be how to overturn the resistance to change that is a trait of healthcare in the United States so that the best new genetic science can find its way into clinical diagnostics. It is a challenge built around the adage of “follow the money.” Expect the folks getting the money today to resist changes to the status quo which favor rapid adoption of new genetic and molecular testing technologies. Therefore, whether you agree that the new decade starts in 2010 or 2011, what remains true is that the next 10 years have the potential to make pathology a pre-eminent clinical service because of how it delivers life-saving and life-enhancing genetic/molecular information.

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