CEO SUMMARY: Too often local pathology groups fail to react to intensified sales competition for the biopsy referrals of clinicians in their community. In Torrance, California, the 30 pathologists of Pathology, Inc. decided it was time to invest capital and resources into developing their own flavor of “value-added” pathology services. These custom-tailored pathology reports are now pulling in new client accounts.
IT’S NOT OFTEN that a private pathology group practice is willing to spend capital and resources to develop customer-friendly, value-added services. That’s what makes the state- of-the-art prostate biopsy reporting system developed at Pathology, Inc. particularly interesting.
In recent years, the 30 pathologists associated with Pathology, Inc., located in Torrance, California, have offered report formats to physician-clients that can be highly-customized to the personal preferences of individual clinicians.
“To support our outreach program, we wanted to add images and other improvements to our existing reporting system,” stated Eric Glassy, M.D., Pathologist and Principal at Pathology, Inc. “We were responding to physician-client demand in our market. This demand was triggered by competition from larger lab companies which were offering color digital photographs in their reports.”
Glassy is the inventor of the new reporting system. “I’m a frustrated graphic designer,” he admitted, “and I knew there were ways to improve reporting that would add value for physicians and patients.
“Our reports are customizable for each physician-client and for each patient,” stated Glassy. “Physicians can add their own logo—which is visible on the printed laboratory report they receive from us. They can select from seven formats, depending on the test-results scenario. The software also has flexible client mapping options. This allows physicians to describe cancer sites according to their preference.
“Some pathologists want to use the report as the ‘whole report,’ meaning both gross and micro,” he noted. “Others want to use it as a preliminary report. For some of our clients, the ability to transmit the report by fax is important. The software system we created has the capability to meet these types of specific client needs.
Ease of Use Is Important
“Some lab companies claim they can put images on reports,” Glassy continued. “But ease of use remains a factor with their offerings. Those companies use systems built on Microsoft Word templates. Some of the features—such as headers and labels—are difficult to use. The choice of MS Word as software to pull in images means that it is not a seamless process to produce an integrated printed report. Our reporting software is simple to use, so training is minimal.
“From the outset of this design project we had two goals,” stated Glassy. “First, we wanted to upgrade existing reporting systems in ways that would add value for our urologist clients and improve patient care. Second, we wanted to differentiate our pathology laboratory’s services from the competition.
“We designed the stand-alone software to fit standard pathology systems that run on MacIntosh or PC workstations,” he explained. “The system can run on a server, so different users can access a report at the same time. Pathologists can generate monthly and quarterly summary reports and more detailed individual reports that precisely indicate the length and percentage of cancer in each core. This information can be useful for research studies.
“Our system evolved in four stages,” explained Glassy. “First we introduced color images into the reports. Urologists want color, so this was an important competitive response to larger laboratories. Second, we incorporated urology-focused statistics, such as Partin Tables. Third, we designed the patient information segment. Fourth, we added a treatment planning sheet. Of course, we keep adding improvements. We’re now implementing our third major update of the software.
“For me, the most satisfying outcome of this project is the ability to position the pathologists at that important educational moment between a physician and his patient. That is the critical consultation when the physician and the patient discuss the results of the laboratory information provided in the reports.
“Our customized report is a useful tool for both sides during a very difficult time for the patient,” observed Glassy. “It can’t substitute for the handholding that often is a part of these consultations, but we have feedback from physicians that it does make things go easier.
Innovation By Local Paths
What sets the pathologists in this private medical group apart from many of their peers is the sensitivity to changes in the healthcare marketplace and the willing- ness to counter the sales strategies of national labs sending sales reps into Pathology, Inc.’s local community. “We realized that, as pathologists, we had to do more than just give accurate results in order to compete effectively,” recalled Glassy. “We recognized that developing an improved reporting system would give us a significant competitive edge. That spurred our pathology group and its business arm, Pathology Business Services, to commit the necessary dollars to fund this project.
“Customized reports have proved quite effective at expanding our client base,” Glassy noted. “It now allows us to make inroads into large clients, who previously would have gone with lab firms like DIANON Systems or USLabs.
“In addition to attracting new business, it has proved useful in retention of our existing client base,” he added. “As hospital-based pathologists, our hospital relationships do help to capture new business. But, relationships break down if our pathology group does not introduce innovations and offer new value-added services to sustain them.
“Customized reports have proved quite effective at expanding our client base,” Glassy noted. “It now allows us to make inroads into large clients, who previously would have gone with lab firms like DIANON Systems or USLabs.”
“Two top selling points are the patient information page and the FAQ (frequently asked questions) page,” Glassy noted. “In addition to diagnostic information, the reports provide extensive educational material for the patient, including where to go on the Web for additional information.
“Often patients are too emotionally shut down to absorb information during the physician consultation about test results,” Glassy stated. “Now they can take home the detailed, personalized information they need to make difficult treatment-related decisions. This information can be studied at a later time.
Reduces Consultation Time
“One benefit from the patient education presentation we make is that it dramatically reduces the consultation time required with the physician, as well as the time required for the follow up visit,” observed Glassy. “It also allows treatment to begin sooner to the benefit of the patient. The ability to quickly provide essential, highly-customized information to patients streamlines the urologists’ practice. They recognize we’ve helped them realize greater efficiency and higher productivity. This is something that we do not see being done by the bigger lab companies in our market.”
Pathology, Inc. has designed the system to be transportable into other private pathology group practices. “We sold a number of systems to labs that contacted us, primarily through our Website, eVirchow.com,” Glassy noted. “The cost is in the range of $10,000, based on which modules are incorporated. For example, within the breast module, reports can be provided with or without graphic representations of Nottingham scores. However, selling software is not our core business. That is why we do not have an active marketing program for this product.”
Invested In Sales Team
This unique pathology reporting system is not the only proactive business strategy implemented at Pathology, Inc. The group has also invested in a professional sales and marketing team. The pathologists understand that, to increase revenues and partner compensation, they must invest in a sales program that will add new clients and bring in growing numbers of specimens.
Pathologists and their group practice administrators should recognize that, by investing in their own business, the pathologists at Pathology, Inc. are taking the necessary step to protect and enhance the financial stability of their group practice—while also generating an ever-growing flow of additional revenue—the source of increased profits.