Many new in vitro diagnostics companies show their products last week in Anaheim
It’s a troubling fact that most health policymakers in the public and private sectors continue to handle clinical pathology laboratory testing as a commodity. That often translates into health insurance programs paying medical laboratories ever less money for the tests they provide. Under-reimbursement for lab tests is a threat to the integrity of laboratory medicine in this country.
However, two groups in our country think differently than this group of health policymakers. These are patients and Wall Street investors. Individuals in both groups are closely tracking advances in laboratory testing and laboratory medicine that positively affect patient care. They know the clinical and economic benefit of using new clinical lab test technology for the right patient at the right time.
This dichotomy between the commodity pricing mindset of health policymakers and the added value interest of patients and Wall Street investors could be seen last week at the nation’s largest gathering of clinical laboratory professionals in Anaheim, California.
The occasion was the 2010 Joint Meeting of the Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC) and the American Society of Clinical Laboratory Sciences (ASCLS). Upwards of 20,000 people were expected to attend the three-day exhibition which ended last Thursday.
With the nation’s economy still in the doldrums following one of the longest recessions since World War II, activity on the floor of the exhibit hall provided evidence that many clinical laboratories are still prepared to purchase new analyzers, laboratory automation systems, and similar products. In fact, the AACC issued a press release prior to the conference announcing that 1,900 booths had been purchased and 650 companies would be exhibiting. That compares with the 2009 event, where AACC reported sales of 1,793 booths to 663 exhibiting companies.
On the exhibit hall floor, your Dark Daily editor ran into Jerry Goldsmith, who, until his retirement in recent years, organized the AACC’s annual exhibition in his role as Vice President of Marketing Programs at AACC. Now in active retirement, Goldsmith continues to keep a close eye on events in the laboratory testing industry.
When asked about the types of changes he has seen in the exhibition in recent years, Goldsmith responded with some observations. “Two fundamental trends lie behind the strong interest in laboratory testing and in vitro diagnostics (IVD),” he noted. “First, laboratory tests mean more to patients today that, say, compared to even 10 years ago.
“Patients recognize this difference,” continued Goldsmith. “Patients are paying closer attention to what tests the physician is ordering and what the results mean. Because new lab test technologies allow more precise diagnosis—along with useful information to guide therapy—patients recognize that laboratory tests play a more important role in their personal healthcare. This growing patient interest in laboratory testing is why a web site service like Lab Tests Online is so successful. Consumers want to understand everything about the laboratory tests being ordered by their physician.
“The second trend which has been positive for the AACC’s exhibition is that the circle of healthcare professionals who recognize the importance of the laboratory test is expanding,” continued Goldsmith. “There is a practical sign of this trend. We have a more diverse group of visitors who now come to see these exhibits and talk to the IVD companies. Medical professionals in other specialties are attending. More Wall Street types are also showing up to learn about new diagnostic technologies.”
Goldsmith’s observations about the two trends contributing to increased attendance and attention to the AACC’s annual exhibition is consistent with other developments within the laboratory testing industry. For example, most pathologists and clinical laboratory managers are aware of Wall Street’s heightened interest in diagnostics and laboratory testing. The most visible sign of this interest are the high prices professional investors are willing to pay when established medical laboratories or anatomic pathology companies are put up for sale.
Yet, even as patients and professional investors recognize the compelling value proposition delivered by the right laboratory test ordered on the right patient at the right time, these same insights have not been enough to change the thinking of many health policymakers. Until private and public health policymakers discard the “lab as a commodity” mindset when establishing reimbursement and coverage guidelines, the contribution of laboratory medicine to better patient outcomes will be lessened.