Healthcare providers of all types will benefit from acknowledging Gen Z’s preference for digital interactions, self-testing, and over-the-counter medications
Each generation has its own unique connection to how it manages its health, and the latest studies into the healthcare habits of Generation Z (aka, Gen Z or Zoomers) are providing valuable insight that savvy clinical laboratory managers and pathologists—in fact all healthcare providers—can use to better serve their Gen Z patients.
According to McKinsey and Company, Gen Z’s “identity has been shaped by the digital age, climate anxiety, a shifting financial landscape, and COVID-19.” And Pew Research states that Zoomers “are also digital natives who have little or no memory of the world as it existed before smartphones.”
As the largest demographic, “Gen Z stands 2.6 billion members strong. … Globally, they hold purchasing power of more than $500 billion and mobile buying power of $143 billion,” wrote Stacy Rapacon, Managing Editor at Senior Executive Media, in an article she penned for HP’s The Garage.
Meeting Gen Zers’ healthcare needs on their terms would seem to be a judicious choice.
“Gen-Z’s buying power may exceed $3 trillion,” wrote Bernhard Schroeder (above), a clinical lecturer on integrated/online marketing at San Diego State University, in Forbes. “Their spending ability exceeds the gross domestic product of all but about 25 of the world’s countries.” Thus, it behooves healthcare leaders, including clinical laboratory managers and pathologists, to consider how best to approach treating Gen Z patients. (Photo copyright: San Diego State University.)
Gen Z Leads in Digital Healthcare Use, Self-testing, OTC Drugs
“Gen Z engages in every type of digital healthcare activity more than other generations,” a recent study by PYMNTS noted. A total of 2,735 consumers were surveyed, and though all reported using digital healthcare to some degree, Gen Z stood out.
Patient portal access was the highest digital method accessed by Zoomers (62%), followed by telemedicine appointment usage (55%), the PYMNTS report found.
Knowing the direction Gen Z is trending may lead clinical laboratory leaders to expect self-testing to be on the rise, and that hunch would be correct. “There are two converging trends; the rise of women’s health technology and increased use of at-home sample collection for diagnosis tests,” Clinical Lab Products reported.
“Ongoing innovation in these areas could significantly improve the accessibility of women’s health testing. It will also have repercussions for labs, potentially changing the way samples are received and processed, and the way results are distributed. The quantity and quality of samples may be impacted, too. It’s important for labs to be aware of likely developments so they can prepare, and potentially collaborate with the health technology companies driving change,” CLP noted.
Another area feeling the impact of Gen Z’s healthcare spending is the over-the-counter (OTC) drug market.
“Since the pandemic began, more Americans are paying closer attention to their symptoms and looking for easily accessible information about over-the-counter medications, especially for allergies, coughs, and headaches,” said Kim Castro, Editor and Chief Content Officer for US News and World Report, in a press release.
Zoomers Want Healthcare on Their Own Terms
Gen Z grew up with the internet, Amazon, Netflix, Google, and social media since birth.
As digital natives, Gen Z can be more science and data driven and yet still expect to find health advice on YouTube or TikTok. According to an article published by Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, “Gen Z is the first generation to grow up surrounded by digital devices, and they expect their health benefits to be digital, too. From choosing a benefits package to finding a provider, Gen Z wants to take care of their health on their own terms. And that may just include video chatting with a doctor from the back of an Uber.”
In its 2022 US Digital Health Survey, research firm Insider Intelligence found that “Half of Gen Z adults turn to social media platforms for health-related purposes, either all the time or often.”
“Gen-Z will make up 31% of the world’s population by 2021 and they have deeply formed perceptions and beliefs … This has led to an amazing change in the way Gen-Z is disrupting several industries simultaneously,” wrote Bernhard Schroeder (above), a clinical lecturer on integrated/online marketing at San Diego State University, in Forbes.
What Can Clinical Laboratories Learn from These Findings
Gen Z seeks accuracy and trustworthy information. “Gen-Zers’ natural penchant for skepticism and frugality—coupled with low levels of confidence in the US healthcare system—makes them less likely to trust providers, more likely to research prices before seeking care, and more apt to worry that their health insurance won’t cover their treatment,” Insider Intelligence noted.
According to Contract Pharma, “Gen Z is concerned with holistic health and self-care, rather than a one size fits all pharmaceutical approach. They share a hesitancy for traditional healthcare models but with very interesting differences. By understanding these differences, the consumer healthcare industry can focus on agile and distinctive brands to harness Gen Z’s tremendous purchasing power.”
Savvy clinical laboratory leaders can better serve their Gen-Z client physicians and patients by better understanding why Zoomers are more inclined to order their own lab tests (without a physician), collect their own specimens to send into labs, and/or collect their own specimens to do home testing (think COVID-19 self-test kits). Zoomers may need an entirely new business model from their healthcare providers, including clinical laboratories.
This is another approach to the liquid biopsy that clinical laboratories and pathologists may use to detect cancer less invasively
Screening for cancer usually involves invasive, often painful, costly biopsies to provide samples for diagnostic clinical laboratory testing. But now, scientists at the University of Technology (UTS) in Sydney, Australia, have developed a novel approach to identifying tumorous cells in the bloodstream that uses imaging to cause cells with elevated lactase to fluoresce, according to a UTS news release.
The UTS researchers created a Static Droplet Microfluidic (SDM) device that detects circulating tumor cells (CTC) that have separated from the cancer source and entered the bloodstream. The isolation of CTCs is an intrinsic principle behind liquid biopsies, and microfluidic gadgets can improve the efficiency in which problematic cells are captured.
The University of Technology’s new SDM device could lead the way for very early detection of cancers and help medical professionals monitor and treat cancers.
“Managing cancer through the assessment of tumor cells in blood samples is far less invasive than taking tissue biopsies. It allows doctors to do repeat tests and monitor a patient’s response to treatment,” explained Majid E. Warkiani, PhD, Professor, School of Biomedical Engineering, UTS, and one of the authors of the study, in a news release. Clinical laboratories and pathologists may soon have a new liquid biopsy approach to detecting cancers. (Photo copyright: University of New South Wales.)
Precision Medicine a Goal of UTS Research
The University of Technology’s new SDM device differentiates tumor cells from normal cells using a unique metabolic signature of cancer that involves the waste product lactate.
“A single tumor cell can exist among billions of blood cells in just one milliliter of blood, making it very difficult to find,” explained Majid E. Warkiani, PhD, a professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering at UTS and one of the authors of the study, in the news release.
“The new [SDM] detection technology has 38,400 chambers capable of isolating and classifying the number of metabolically active tumor cells,” he added.
“In the 1920s, Otto Warburg discovered that cancer cells consume a lot of glucose and so produce more lactate. Our device monitors single cells for increased lactate using pH sensitive fluorescent dyes that detect acidification around cells,” Warkiani noted.
After the SDM device has detected the presence of questionable cells, those cells undergo further genetic testing and molecular analysis to determine the source of the cancer. Because circulating tumor cells are a precursor of metastasis, the device’s ability to identify CTCs in very small quantities can aid in the diagnosis and classification of the cancer and the establishment of personalized treatment plans, a key goal of precision medicine.
The new technology was also designed to be operated easily by medical personnel without the need for high-end equipment and tedious, lengthy training sessions. This feature should allow for easier integration into medical research, clinical laboratory diagnostics, and enable physicians to monitor cancer patients in a functional and inexpensive manner, according to the published study.
“Managing cancer through the assessment of tumor cells in blood samples is far less invasive than taking tissue biopsies. It allows doctors to do repeat tests and monitor a patient’s response to treatment,” stated Warkiani in the press release.
The team have filed for a provisional patent for the device and plan on releasing it commercially in the future.
Other Breakthroughs in MCED Testing
Scientists around the world have been working to develop a simple blood test for diagnosing cancer and creating optimal treatment protocols for a long time. There have been some notable breakthroughs in the advancement of multi-cancer early detection (MCED) tests, which Dark Daily has covered in prior ebriefings.
Cancer is a force in Australia as well. It’s estimated that 151,000 Australians were diagnosed with cancer in 2021, and that nearly one in two Australians will receive a diagnosis of the illness by the age of 85, according to Cancer Council South Australia.
The population of Australia in 2021 was 25.69 million, compared to the US in the same year at 331.9 million.
The development of the University of Technology’s static droplet microfluidic device is another approach in the use of liquid biopsies as a means to detect cancer less invasively.
More research and clinical studies are needed before the device can be ready for clinical use by anatomic pathology groups and medical laboratories, but its creation may lead to faster diagnosis of cancers, especially in the early stages, which could lead to improved patient outcomes.
In a handful of cases, health insurers reversed denials after physicians or patients posted complaints on social media
Prior authorization requirements by health insurers have long been a thorn in the side of medical laboratories, as well as physicians. But now, doctors and patients are employing a new tactic against the practice—turning to social media to shame payers into reversing denials, according to KFF Health News (formerly Kaiser Health News).
Genetic testing lab companies are quite familiar with prior authorization problems. They see a significant number of their genetic test requests fail to obtain a prior authorization. Thus, if the lab performs the test, the payer will likely not reimburse, leaving the lab to bill the patient for 100% of the test price, commonly $1,000 to $5,000. Then, an irate patient typically calls the doctor to complain about the huge out-of-pocket cost.
“There are times when you simply must call out wrongdoings,” she wrote in an Instagram post, according to the outlet. “This is one of those times.”
In response, an “escalation specialist” from BCBSIL contacted her but was unable to help. Then, after KFF Health News reached out, Nix discovered on her own that $36,000 in outstanding claims were marked “paid.”
“No one from the company had contacted her to explain why or what had changed,” KFF reported. “[Nix] also said she was informed by her hospital that the insurer will no longer require her to obtain prior authorization before her infusions, which she restarted in July.”
“I think we’re on the precipice of really improving the environment for prior authorization,” said Todd Askew, Senior Vice President, Advocacy, for the American Medical Association, in an AMA Advocacy Update. If this was to happen, it would be welcome news for clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups. (Photo copyright: Nashville Medical News.)
Physicians Also Take to Social Media to Complain about Denials
Two weeks later, he reported that the treatment was approved soon after the tweet. “When did Twitter become the preferred pathway for drug approval?” he wrote.
Eunice Stallman, MD, a psychiatrist from Boise, Idaho, complained on X (formerly Twitter) about Blue Cross of Idaho’s prior authorization denial of a brain cancer treatment for her nine-month-old daughter. “This is my daughter that you tried to deny care for,” she posted. “When a team of expert [doctors] recommend a treatment, your PharmD reviewers don’t get to deny her life-saving care for your profits.”
However, in this case, she posted her account after Blue Cross Idaho reversed the denial. She said she did this in part to prevent the payer from denying coverage for the drug in the future. “The power of the social media has been huge,” she told KFF Health News. The story noted that she joined X for the first time so she could share her story.
Affordable Care Act Loophole?
“We’re not going to get rid of prior authorization. Nobody is saying we should get rid of it entirely, but it needs to be right sized, it needs to be simplified, it needs to be less friction between the patient and accessing their benefits. And I think we’re on really good track to make some significant improvements in government programs, as well as in the private sector,” said Todd Askew, Senior Vice President, Advocacy, for the American Medical Association, in an AMA Advocacy Update.
However, KFF HealthNews reported that Kaye Pestaina, JD, a Kaiser Family Foundation VP and Co-Director of the group’s Program on Patient and Consumer Protections, noted that some “patient advocates and health policy experts” have questioned whether payers’ use of prior authorization denials may be a way to get around the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition against denial of coverage for preexisting conditions.
“They take in premiums and don’t pay claims,” family physician and healthcare consultant Linda Peeno, MD, told KFF Health News. “That’s how they make money. They just delay and delay and delay until you die. And you’re absolutely helpless as a patient.” Peeno was a medical reviewer for Humana in the 1980s and then became a whistleblower.
The issue became top-of-mind for genetic testing labs in 2017, when Anthem (now Elevance) and UnitedHealthcare established programs in which physicians needed prior authorization before the insurers would agree to pay for genetic tests.
Dark Daily’s sister publication The Dark Report covered this in “Two Largest Payers Start Lab Test Pre-Authorization.” We noted then that it was reasonable to assume that other health insurers would follow suit and institute their own programs to manage how physicians utilize genetic tests.
At least one large payer has made a move to reduce prior authorization in some cases. Effective Sept. 1, UnitedHealthcare began a phased approach to remove prior authorization requirements for hundreds of procedures, including more than 200 genetic tests under some commercial insurance plans.
However, a source close to the payer industry noted to Dark Daily that UnitedHealthcare has balked at paying hundreds of millions’ worth of genetic claims going back 24 months. The source indicated that genetic test labs are engaging attorneys to push their claims forward with the payer.
Is Complaining on Social Media an Effective Tactic?
A story in Harvard Business Review cited research suggesting that companies should avoid responding publicly to customer complaints on social media. Though public engagement may appear to be a good idea, “when companies responded publicly to negative tweets, researchers found that those companies experienced a drop in stock price and a reduction in brand image,” the authors wrote.
KFF Health News reported that the federal government is proposing reforms that would require some health plans “to provide more transparency about denials and to speed up their response times.” The changes, which would take effect in 2026, would apply to Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, and federal Health Insurance Marketplace plans, “but not employer-sponsored health plans.”
KFF also noted that some insurers are voluntarily revising prior authorization rules. And the American Medical Association reported in March that 30 states, including Arkansas, California, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington, are considering their own legislation to reform the practice. Some are modeled on legislation drafted by the AMA.
Though the states and the federal government are proposing regulations to address prior authorization complaints, reform will likely take time. Given Harvard Business Review’s suggestion to resist replying to negative customer complaints in social media, clinical labs—indeed, all healthcare providers—should carefully consider the full consequences of going to social media to describe issues they are having with health insurers.
Demand for low cost, convenient access to doctors and drugs is driving transformation to decentralized medical care, and retail pharmacy chains see opportunity in offering primary care services
Retail pharmacies and pharmacists continue to play a growing role in healthcare as consumer demand for lower cost and convenience pushes the nation’s medical landscape away from centralized healthcare systems. Clinical laboratories have seen this in the increasing trend of consumers seeking vaccinations and home-health tests at their local drug stores.
Results of a pair of surveys dubbed “Pharmacy Next” conducted by Wolters Kluwer Health revealed that 58% of people are now willing to be treated for non-emergency healthcare conditions in non-traditional medical environments, such as retail pharmacies and clinics.
This is a finding that clinical laboratory managers and pathologists should incorporate into their labs’ strategic planning. It portends a shift in care away from the traditional primary care clinic—typically located in the campus around the community hospital—and toward retail pharmacies. Labs will want to capture the test referrals originating from the primary care clinics located in retail pharmacies.
This willingness to access medical care in non-traditional environments is especially true among people in Generation Y (Millennials) and Generation Z (Zoomers)—people born between 1981-1996 (Gen Y) and 1997-2012 (Gen Z), according to Journey Matters.
“As we saw in last year’s survey, primary care decentralization is continuing—the traditional one doctor-one patient, single point of coordination is vanishing, and this is especially evident in younger generations,” said Peter Bonis, MD, Wolters Kluwer’s Chief Medical Officer, in a press release.
The online surveys of more than 2,000 US adults was weighted by age, gender, household income, and education to be representative of the entire population of the United States.
“By preparing for this shift today, providers can work in concert across care sites to deliver the best care to patients,” said Peter Bonis, MD, Wolters Kluwer Health Chief Medical Officer, in a press release. “Likewise, newer care delivery models, like retail pharmacies and clinics, can ensure they’re ready to meet the expectations of healthcare consumers, who will increasingly be turning to them for a growing range of care needs.” Clinical laboratories may find new revenue opportunities working with the primary care clinics operating within local retail pharmacists and clinicians. (Photo copyright: Wolters Kluwer.)
Key Findings of the Wolters Kluwer Pharmacy Next Studies
Some key insights of the surveys include:
Care is rapidly decentralizing with 58% stating they are likely to visit a local pharmacy for non-emergency medical care.
Younger generations are signaling lasting change within the industry as they are more open to non-traditional styles of care.
61% of respondents envision most primary care services being provided at pharmacies, retail clinics, or pharmacy clinics within the next five years. Of the respondents, 70% of Millennials, 66% of Gen Z, 65% of Gen X, and 43% of Baby Boomers believe this transition will occur.
Consumers are worried about prescription costs and availability.
92% of respondents said physicians and pharmacists should inform patients of generic options.
59% of surveyed consumers have concerns about drug tampering and theft when it involves mail order or subscription prescription services.
One in three respondents believe convenience is more important than credentials in non-emergency situations.
The survey indicates that healthcare consumers across multiple generations are open to a shift in some medical services from doctors to pharmacists. However, there were some notable differences between generations.
Respondents of the Baby Boomer (55%) and Gen X (57%) generations stated they would trust a physician assistant with medication prescriptions, while only 42% of Gen Z and 47% of Millennial respondents felt the same way.
Additionally, Boomers (57%) and Gen X (67%) said they would feel comfortable with a nurse practitioner issuing their prescriptions, while only 44% of Gen Z and 53% of Millennials said they would.
Increased Comfort with Genetic Testing at Pharmacies
Overall, 68% of individuals polled believe their individual genomic data could guide prescription decisions, with Millennials (77%) and Gen Z (74%) being the primary believers. Additionally, 88% of respondents stated they see an incentive for health insurers to cover genomic testing, and 72% said they would be open to genetic testing for personalized medical care.
But pharmacists and clinicians should be aware that advancing pharmacogenomics will require addressing privacy concerns. According to the Wolters Kluwer study, 57% of Gen Z and 53% of Millennials have apprehension surrounding genetic testing due to privacy risks, with 35% of Gen X and Boomers holding that same opinion.
Healthcare Staff Shortages, Drug Cost a Concern
Survey respondents are also concerned about pharmacy staff shortages and expenditures when seeking care at a pharmacy. Half of the participants are worried they will receive the wrong medication, half worry about getting the incorrect dosage, and almost half (47%) fear receiving the wrong directions due to overburdened pharmacy employees.
More people in Gen Z (59%) and Millennials (60%) had these concerns compared to Gen X (44%) and Boomers (38%).
Sadly, a distressing 44% of those surveyed admitted to not filling a prescription due to the costs. That number jumps to a staggering 56% among individuals with no health insurance, compared to 42% for insured patients.
“From hospitals to doctors’ offices, from pharmacies to pharma and beyond, healthcare must move to more affordable and accessible primary care models, adopt innovations that help deliver more personalized care, and address persistent safety and cost concerns that consumers have about their medications,” said Bonis in the press release.
Can Pharmacies Deliver Primary Care as Well as Doctor’s Offices?
Pharmacies may be logical setting for at least some non-emergency health services. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 90% of the US population live within five miles of a pharmacy and about 72% of visits to physician’s offices involve the prescribing and monitoring of medication therapies.
“We’re not talking about complicated services. We’re talking low-acuity, very basic care,” said Anita Patel, PharmD, Vice President of Pharmacy Services Development for Walgreens, at the HIMSS conference.
Pharmacies across the country continue to add more healthcare services to their available public offerings. This trend will likely persist into the future as healthcare becomes more expensive, wait times for physician appointments increases, and medical staff shortages rise. Thus, there may be opportunities for clinical laboratories to support pharmacists and doctors working in retail settings.
The implication from these findings is that hospital-based clinical laboratories saw a drop in test volume and any lab revenue associated with inpatient testing.
In an analysis of data from more than 1,300 hospitals, Kaufman Hall noted a dip in hospitals’ median calendar year-to-date operating margin from 1.4% in June down to 1.3% in July. The data also showed “a greater pullback in volume on the outpatient side, which may be attributed to patients choosing not to pursue elective procedures during the summer,” a Kaufman Hall news release stated.
Kaufman Hall’s National Hospital Flash Report by Erik Swanson, Senior Vice President, Data and Analytics, and Brian Pisarsky, Senior Vice President, Strategic and Financial Planning, is an analysis of actual and budget data—sampled from Syntellis Performance Solutions—which is representative of hospitals of various sizes and areas in the US.
“It’s clear that today’s challenging financial environment is here to stay, and hospital leaders must be proactive in seeking out opportunities to refine their operations and remain competitive,” said Erik Swanson, Senior Vice President, Data and Analytics, Kaufman Hall, in a news release. Clinical laboratory leaders would be wise to follow the same advice. (Photo copyright: Kaufman Hall.)
Expenses Declined, Bad Debt and Charity Care Rose
Here are other national data Kaufman Hall reported for July 2023 as compared to June 2023:
Adjusted discharges per calendar day dropped 7%.
Operating room minutes per calendar day declined 13%.
Emergency department visits per calendar day fell 1%.
Bad debt and charity care as a percentage of hospitals’ gross operating revenue was up 7%.
Purchased service expense per adjusted discharge was down 3%.
Labor expense per adjusted discharge also fell 3%.
Even though expenses slightly declined during July, patient volume decreases “pulled down” the margins, Healthcare Innovation reported, which called the report “a gloomy one.”
Also, the uptick in bad debt and charity care while volumes decreased created a “difficult situation for hospitals,” Medical Economics observed.
Here are the report’s “key takeaways,” according to Kaufman Hall:
All volume indicators were down, but operating margins were still better than 2022.
Outpatient volume decreased more than inpatient, possibly due to patients choosing not to have elective procedures during the summer.
The decline in expenses was “not enough to offset revenue losses,” and inflation will continue to take its toll on labor expenses.
Medicaid has been “disenrolling” members in 30 states during June and July, and bad debt and charity care have increased.
The report also called out need for improvement in providers’ discharge of patients to skilled nursing facilities. “Hospitals that prioritize care transitions to skilled nursing facilities are performing better than institutions [that] do not,” Swanson said in the news release.
“Identifying steps that can ensure a smooth transition, such as obtaining pre-authorizations and planning discharge early, will help organizations reduce expenses and improve patients’ experience,” he continued.
For Hospitals, 2023 Not as Bad as 2022
MedCity News pointed out that though July’s operating margin index decline followed four months of growth, hospitals are still way ahead of 2022 performance when median operating margins were -0.98% in July 2022.
Still, it appears hospitals are struggling to secure financial footing after 2022, an overall bad financial year for the hospital industry.
More recently, a 2023 Becker’s Hospital CFO Report compiled a list of 81 hospitals that had cut jobs since the start of the year in response to “financial and operational challenges.”
Included was Tufts Medicine in Burlington, Massachusetts. In August, the hospital “eliminated hundreds of jobs” in an outsourcing of lab outreach services to Labcorp. The Becker’s report noted that “[Tufts] said it will work with Labcorp to have the majority of affected employees transition to a similar position with Labcorp.”
Tips for Clinical Lab Financial Viability
Medical laboratory leaders need to help ensure financial health of their labs as well as quality and efficiency of services. Advice from Kaufman Hall may be applicable.
The report writers advised providers to secure payer authorizations before a “patient comes in the door.” For clinical labs, this is comparable to the need to secure insurance company authorizations for expensive genetic tests before samples are taken and tests performed.
Another tip from Kaufman Hall is to “collect and use data to inform process improvement” and “make change.” Along those lines, medical laboratories could leverage patient data to guide launch of new services, entry to markets, workflow improvement, and costs reduction.
Certainly every clinical laboratory in the United States has a unique story about dealing with the challenges of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, but only BioReference did testing for multiple professional sports leagues and the cruise ship industry
Few would challenge the assertion that the nation’s clinical laboratories (along with public health officials) were caught flat-footed when the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus reached the United States in the winter of 2021. Even as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and some labs rushed to develop reliable medical laboratory tests for COVID-19 in the early weeks of the outbreak, the demand for tests far outstripped supply in this country for many months.
This was the moment when the pandemic’s need meant lab testing opportunity for medical laboratories across the nation. This was particularly true for Elmwood Park, New Jersey-based BioReference Laboratories, Inc. (BRLI), a division of OPKO, Inc. BioReference found itself in the nation’s first pandemic hot zone—New York City and surrounding counties.
Not only was this lab company geographically in the center of the first overwhelming surge of COVID-19 cases, but its management team had important relationships across government and business. For that reason, its management team was pulled into the earliest planning sessions by government officials at the city, state, and federal level.
Consequently, in the earliest days of the outbreak, BioReference was one of the nation’s first labs to help organize and support drive-through COVID-19 specimen collection centers. Its management team went on to accomplish many notable firsts in the lab’s response to the pandemic. All of this is described in the recently-published book “Swab–Leadership in the Race to Provide COVID Testing to America.”
As CEO of BioReference Laboratories during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, physician Jon R. Cohen, MD (above), energized his clinical lab’s management team and staff to rise to a series of unique challenges, ranging from helping set up the nation’s first drive-through COVID-19 sampling sites in New York City to performing testing for professional sports leagues, such as the NBA, the NFL, and the NHL. (Photo copyright: New York Foundling, Inc.)
Harnessing the Creativity and Energy of a Clinical Lab Staff
The book’s author is Jon R. Cohen, MD, who was CEO of BioReference Laboratories throughout the course of the pandemic. Cohen is now CEO of Talkspace, a virtual behavioral health company.
“Swab” documents BioReference lab’s response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and tells the tale of how the lab company harnessed the creativity of its managers and lab scientists to speedily build up daily test volumes at a time when automation, analyzers, test kits, collection supplies, and reagents were in short supply.
Clinical laboratory professionals interested in lab management will gain valuable insights from Cohen’s approach to writing “Swab.”
While describing BioReference lab’s many innovative COVID-19 testing services, Cohen also provides readers with the management lessons and insights he used to impart needed skills to the company managers, while also inspiring BioReference Lab’s staff to devote the extra effort necessary to deliver COVID-19 testing in novel ways and in unusual settings.
When New York City hospitals were overwhelmed by cases in the earliest days of the pandemic, Cohen’s personal contacts with political leaders came into play. Just a few years earlier, Cohen had run for statewide office as a Democrat. He had friendships with the New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, with the New York State Governor Mario Cuomo, and with Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Cohen’s Lab Had a Seat at Government Planning Tables
As these government officials convened various task forces to address the pandemic, Cohen describes how BioReference had a seat at the table and a voice in viable ways to organize specimen collection and COVID-19 testing literally overnight and on an unprecedented scale.
The pandemic’s early days in late February, March, and April of 2020 were only the first challenges to be overcome by the management at BioReference. “Swab” describes a remarkable progression of innovative SARS-CoV-2 testing programs initiated by Cohen and his team. Each of these testing programs was tailored to the specific needs of different industries. No other clinical laboratory organization in the United States was as successful at serving this range of clients. For example:
The National Football League watched the NBA play in its bubble that summer. BioReference got the call and worked with NFL management to provide COVID-19 tests. For the 2020 season, in support of 268 games played across the United States, BioReference performed 1.23 million tests for 5,000 players, coaches, and staff, with an infection rate of less than 1%.
Along with the NBA and NFL, BioReference provided SARS-CoV-2 testing for professional soccer and hockey, the Winter X Games, and the US men’s and women’s Olympic soccer teams.
One of the lab company’s more complex SARS-CoV-2 testing programs involved the cruise ship industry. In 2021, BioReference established sites in 13 ports around the US and the Caribbean. The lab placed staff on as many as 24 cruise ships at one time.
Of course, testing for schools, colleges, universities, and employers was part of BRLI’s testing services over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic as well.
Creativity of Clinical Lab Managers and Staff
As the examples above illustrate, “Swab” will give readers a ringside seat in how BioReference Laboratories harnessed the creativity and skills of its management team and staff to address the unprecedented demands for timely, accurate COVID-19 testing from the very beginning of the pandemic through its waning months.
Cohen writes with an accessible style and provides readers with an easy-to-read narrative of his lab company’s journey through the pandemic. Each of the book’s 10 chapters ends with a “Leadership Reflection” that Cohen uses to describe the management methods he utilized to keep BRLI’s thousands of employees on task and on time, so that the end result month after month was “mission accomplished.”
In today’s digital age, the statement “this book is available at a bookstore near you” may not be applicable. What is true is that author Jon R. Cohen’s “Swab–Leadership in the Race to Provide COVID Testing to America” can be ordered at Amazon.com, Alibris.com, and other web-based booksellers.