Optimism & Opportunity at Executive War College

This year’s gathering was high-energy and marked by a positive outlook for lab testing

CEO SUMMARY: Instead of our annual review of key speakers as a source of emerging trends and common themes, this year we assess the attitudes, opinions, and activities of the pathologists, laboratory administrators, managers, and industry executives in attendance at the 15th Annual Executive War College. These people are the grass roots of laboratory medicine and they are ready to tackle all the coming challenges in healthcare and the laboratory testing marketplace.

EVERY SPRING, IN ONE LITTLE CORNER of the laboratory testing industry, an interesting group of pathologists, laboratory administrators, consultants, and executives from a wide range of laboratory vendors come together. It makes for an interesting mix of opinion, insight, and networking.

Of course, I am describing the Executive War College on Laboratory and Pathology Management, which took place in New Orleans two weeks ago. It is our custom that, in the first issue of THE DARK REPORT which follows the Executive War College, to provide you with an intelligence briefing of the key strategic themes that emerged over the course of the event. Typically, I’ll present the core points of several speakers to illustrate emerging new trends in laboratory management and operations.

Our objective is to help clients and regular readers understand how forward-looking clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups are adapting to new opportunities and threats in the diagnostics marketplace.

But this year, I am throwing that tradition out the window! There is a good reason to do this. Sharing the comments and insights from several speakers means that you would miss an equally interesting story that unfolded during the Executive War College two weeks ago—a story that bears directly on the current state of the laboratory testing marketplace.

In my view, the tone, tenor, and theme that predominated the more than 80 speakers and sessions was one of optimism and opportunity. This was mirrored by the enthusiasm of all the participants on site at the conference. There was energy and exhilaration in every corner and at almost every session.

That is a remarkable fact, given that this nation is still in the throes of the deepest economic recession since 1981-82. After all, unemployment in the nation still hovers at almost 10%. The stock market is stumbling. Economic activity has stirred in recent quarters, but to my knowledge, no economist has declared that the recession has ended.

Why Are Labs Bullish?

Thus, this important question: why is this cross section of lab industry leaders and innovators so bullish on their collective future? As a strategist with a 15-year track record of publishing analyses and predictions—in advance of events—I’d like to use these pages to explain why I think the activities connected with this year’s Executive War College signal an important shift in the attitudes and mind sets of pathologists and lab administrators leading many of the nation’s top-rank lab organizations.

First, it is significant that these folks spent time and treasure to travel to New Orleans specifically to hear the featured speakers, to attend sessions of interest on innovations in lab management and operations, and to network with the truly disparate group of characters who populate the Executive War College every year.

Start with the numbers. Attendance was up more than 20% from 2009. Almost 600 people were registered. There were laboratory leaders from 12 different countries, a number equal to last year.

This attendance, engagement, and yes—enthusiasm—is important. There is a message here. These busy individuals are willing to invest time and money to gain the knowledge they will take back and use to push their lab’s performance to the next higher level of achievement.

That is a sign that these accomplished laboratory professionals see a bright future ahead for their laboratory organizations. They want to pro-actively gather useful information, poll their peers for opinions, and get a better sense of the primary drivers actively reshaping healthcare and the laboratory testing industry.

Next, special interest communities have popped up within the crowd that attends the Executive War College each year. Want to sell your laboratory or pathology group? All the merger/acquisition professionals are in attendance to provide advice. Want to interact with other laboratory executives in your area? Discussion roundtables for laboratory Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and for Chief Information Officers (CIOs) have been organized by attendees. They are now a regular feature each year.

Similarly, this year, the Diagnostic Marketing Association (DxMA) and THE DARK REPORT organized a special breakfast session for IVD sales and marketing managers. Not only was this well-attended, but lab managers even sneaked in to catch the conversation.

Ambitious Growth Plans

This activity is itself a sign of the optimism to which I earlier referred. By sitting in and monitoring these various roundtables, it was clear that pathologists and lab administrators have ambitious plans for growing specimen volume and revenue.

This is a powerful source of business intelligence about the lab testing market-place. There are few places where you can hear lots of peers exchange candid opinions about developments in their local market.

Multiply these conversations across the three days of programs presented at the Executive War College and the collective sense of successful pathologists and lab executives is unmistakable. They see opportunities for their laboratories to grow, to acquire and offer new diagnostic technologies, and to improve the financial performance of their laboratories.

I assert that this representative cross section of relatively more innovative and pro-active laboratory directors, pathologists, and managers provides relevant evidence that optimism about the future of laboratory medicine prevails today.

Speakers See It Same Way

This is congruent with the attitudes, messages, and recommendations offered by the 80 speakers at this year’s Executive War College. There was little or no “hang dog” carping from the podium. To the contrary, speakers generally painted a positive picture of the opportunities available to laboratories today and in the near future.

However, these speakers were also clear about the threats that lie ahead. Declining reimbursement, onerous coverage guidelines for tests, surging demand versus shrinking lab budgets, baby boomer retirements which will diminish both staff levels and experience in the lab: all these were mentioned.

But these admonitions took nothing away from the broader message heard from the podium. There is plenty of opportunity for any laboratory that will study its local market, then deliver services that add value to physicians, payers, and physicians.

These are the reasons why I consider the relevant theme at this year’s Executive War College to be opportunity and optimism, validated by the grass roots of lab industry managers who were in attendance.

Executive War College: What It Is, What It’s Not

WE ARE OFTEN ASKED to describe the Executive War College on Laboratory and Pathology Management. It is many things, most of them unorthodox when compared to the more traditional and long-established meetings across the range of laboratory medicine specialties.

By no means does this annual conference—now in its 15th year—claim to represent the wider laboratory testing industry in some form or fashion.

After all, the laboratory industry has other much larger, more established meetings that speak to the science and the clinical role of lab testing in medicine. Similarly, there are regular gatherings of pathologists, lab scientists, and in vitro diagnostics (IVD) manufacturers specifically to exercise leadership and political action on behalf of lab medicine and the interests of what is an extremely diverse profession.

But there is a knowledge vacuum in the collective industry associated with clinical laboratory and anatomic pathology testing services that has come to be filled by the Executive War College. That knowledge vacuum centers around the intersection of several essential elements in diagnostics.

First, the Executive War College has a razor-sharp focus on the management and operations of clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology practices. No other gathering matches the 60 to 80 speakers and sessions presented each year at one time and in one place on this topic.

Second, the Executive War College pres- ents innovators in lab management and operations who share the specifics of how their labs are solving problems common to all labs. It’s an effort to help other labs learn and avoid having to “reinvent the wheel.”

Third, the Executive War College always includes a sophisticated look at the immediate future of healthcare and laboratory medicine—delivered by capable strategic thinkers from pre-eminent companies and organizations. Attendees are often informed about major tends and developments months and years before their colleagues.

Fourth, the Executive War College devotes considerable time and resources to guarantee a powerful networking experience. Often, the best ideas come from casual conversations with peers at lunch or in the halls between sessions.

 

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