Across the country, many hospital laboratory outreach programs continue to grow and prosper, despite a sour economy and higher rates of unemployment. That’s true in Chicago’s northern suburb of Evanston, Illinois, where the laboratory outreach program of Evanston Hospital enjoys solid rates of growth in specimen volume and revenue.

This week, Dark Daily visited Evanston Hospital and spent time with Thomas A.Victor, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and his laboratory team. Evanston Hospital is the anchor facility for Northshore University Healthsystem, which includes Glenbrook Hospital, Highland Park Hospital, and Skokie Hospital. These four hospitals total 1,043 beds. Northshore is affiliated with the University of Chicago School of Medicine.

One distinctive feature of Northshore Healthsystem is its fully-integrated electronic medical record (EMR) system. “This is the EMR product sold by Epic,” explained Victor. “Along with Kaiser Permanente, Northshore Health has gained national recognition for its effective integration of the EMR across multiple facilities and in support of clinical care. This includes 75 sites served by our laboratory outreach program. Also, there are 70,000 patients who access their medical records, including laboratory tests, using our Northshore Connect feature.”

The laboratory at Northshore Health is organized as a central core laboratory at Evanston Hospital which provides testing to the other three hospitals, along with affiliated clinics and outreach clients. It performs more than 4 million tests per year, of which about 30% are from the lab outreach program. The anatomic pathology department handles approximately 70,000 surgical cases annually.

The laboratory outreach program is supported by three sales representatives and has grown steadily in recent years. There is plenty of competition in the communities served by Evanston Hospital’s laboratory outreach program. The lab outreach program of Advocate Health Care with nine hospitals in the region, is one such competitor.

As a way to differentiate itself in a tightly competitive market, the laboratory at Evanston has played two strategic cards. First, it encourages pathologists and other laboratory scientists to build close, ongoing personal relationships with referring physicians. This increases the value of the lab testing services it provides to clients. Second, the laboratory regularly adds new diagnostic technologies and molecular assays to its test menu. This means its customers have access to state-of-the-art molecular tests, often with turnaround times that significantly beat out-of-state laboratory competitors.

Another factor in the success of Evanston Hospital’s laboratory outreach program is that, along with the revenue contribution it makes to the parent health system, it is allowed to keep some of its operating profits to reinvest back in further expanding the business. In turn, larger volume and size brings economies of scale that improve its competitive position in the marketplace.