Tracking specimen collections online is a significant benefit because clinical laboratories can track specimens in real time from pick-up to arrival in the laboratory
At a time when delivering added value to physician clients is a key differentiator for any clinical laboratory wanting to build market share and increase specimen volume, having the right courier and logistics solution can mean the difference between financial success and failure.
Experienced pathologists and medical laboratory managers know why. Every day, the lab courier who shows up at the client’s office is often the primary personal contact between that physician’s office and the lab. Problems with a lab’s courier services are an all-too-common reason why a client switches to a competing laboratory.
Clinical Laboratories Need to Make Right Decision about Couriers
That is why making the right decision about courier and logistic services is the classic management moment of truth that can have a huge upside or downside. If the lab makes the right choice about its courier system, it gains a competitive advantage and increased revenue from a growing number of satisfied new clients. But if a wrong decision is made, there can be a daily stream of problems and client disruptions that lead to lost accounts and decreased revenue.
For years, the popular wisdom among medical laboratories and pathology groups has been that the best courier solution is a courier department that is internally owned and operated. Clinical laboratory managers liked having full control over the hiring and training of couriers. They also wanted flexibility to meet the demands of stat pickups or to address weather emergencies.
Some Clinical Labs Willing to Break the In-House Courier Mindset
However, a number of medical laboratories are reconsidering this nearly automatic default to an in-house courier network. Lab executives are opting to outsource their courier and logistic services to a new class of courier service companies that offer robust and sophisticated capabilities that are much improved over those of courier companies of earlier decades.
It is too early to call this a trend. On the other hand, first-mover medical laboratory organizations that recently outsourced their courier and logistic needs to an independent company seem delighted with their decision. Their physician clients are experiencing equal or better courier services and the labs are benefiting from lower capital investment, increased flexibility, and fewer operational headaches. There is also no need to buy or lease a fleet of cars or pay to have them maintained, for example.
Courier Outsourcing at a Clinical Lab and an Anatomic Pathology Lab
Two examples of labs making the decision to outsource their courier work illustrate the difference between courier outsourcing today versus courier outsourcing in the 1990s. Both laboratory organizations are located on the East Coast. One is a clinical laboratory and the other is an anatomic pathology laboratory.
Imugen, Inc., is a reference laboratory in Norwood, Massachusetts. It specializes in testing for tick-borne diseases and performs about 100,000 billable tests per year.
“In 2008, Imugen made the decision to outsource its courier needs,” stated Bonnie Wootten, Imugen Sales Representative. “We selected MediFleet. It is also based here in New England, and it provides same-day specimen delivery from hospitals, diagnostic laboratories, and medical institutions to our laboratory.
A Core Competency in Logistics
“Our experience is that these contract couriers are professional in appearance and develop strong relationships with our customers,” she continued. “Of equal importance, Medifleet’s core competency is courier and logistics services. When there is bad weather, for example, they respond in a timely and effective manner with route changes and staffing switches.”
Another lab that recently decided to outsource their courier work is McClain Laboratories, LLC, of Smithtown, New York. McLain Labs, an anatomic pathology lab, specializes in evaluating skin, nail, and oral tissue samples and performs approximately 26,000 billable tests per year. Earlier this year it engaged MediFleet to handle its courier requirements.
This fast-growing lab company needed a courier network that would allow it to pick up patient specimens from referring physician offices across a wide swath of geography in the New York City-metro area. “We wanted to offer a first-rate courier service without having to incur the upfront cost of courier cars or the need to hire new staff and buy software that would allow our managers to plan routes and track drivers,” commented Veronica DeCosta, Office Manager at McClain.
Tracking Specimens from Pick-Up to Delivery at the Clinical Laboratory
“It was important that our courier company could allow us to track specimen collections in real-time throughout the day,” she added. “With barcode scanning on every package and real-time access to this information, we can see which packages have been picked up and when they’ll arrive at the laboratory. In turn, knowing how many specimens are inbound to our lab allows us to prepare our nightshift staff accurately, and that also contributes to improved labor productivity.”
The positive experience of these two laboratories after deciding to outsource their courier and logistics services demonstrates how much has changed in this industry segment since the 1990s. There are now innovative courier companies using advanced technology to provide a higher level of service to their pathology and clinical laboratory clients.
In the previous decade it was common for courier companies to co-mingle their routes. This meant that they sent the same drivers and cars to physicians’ offices, banks, and mortgage offices—all on the same run! For medical laboratories, such outsourcing arrangements often produced inconsistent and unreliable service. Too often, lab specimens were compromised by contract couriers who were untrained in how to handle medical laboratory samples properly, leading to lost client accounts for the clinical lab.
This has all changed in the current decade. Leading courier and logistics companies today incorporate next-generation technologies and more sophisticated management expertise to meet and exceed their customers’ expectations. A new crop of courier outsourcing players has emerged that use these capabilities to deliver a much different value proposition to clinical labs and pathology groups.
“Any effective courier company will be able to deliver in two complementary functions for their laboratory customers,” observed the President of MediFleet. “The first function is crisp execution of specimen pick-ups and their delivery to the laboratory.
Labs See Value in Having Professional, Reliable, Responsive Couriers
“This daily service mix includes having professional, reliable, and responsive couriers who are trained in how to properly transport medical laboratory specimens,” he stated. “It is supported by the courier company’s ability to provide the laboratory customer with latest-generation barcode scanning and GPS tracking technology. With these services in place, labs have the capability to track and trace every specimen and every courier each day.
“The second function and source of value is the intellectual savvy that the courier company offers to its laboratory customers,” Medifleet’s president said. “The best in the business are able to analyze the lab’s current routes and daily specimen volume to optimize collection times and driver productivity. Similarly, these companies should be able to respond—in real time—to extreme weather events and anything unexpected that disrupts the normal routine of specimen pick-ups and delivery to the laboratory.”
“Another overlooked reason why clinical laboratories and pathology groups are revisiting the issue of outsourcing their courier service is quite basic,” stated a representative of Medifleet. “In looking for opportunities to cut costs and improve quality, clinical labs and pathology groups are recognizing that their in-house courier services are stuck with legacy 1990s technology and a route system that has never been optimized—nor managed in real time—using the highly sophisticated informatics tools that modern courier services now take for granted.”
Report Available on Courier Services
Recognizing the importance of these issues for clinical laboratories, Dark Daily has published a new white paper on the issues involved in choosing a professional courier service, The Future of Clinical Laboratory Courier Services: Technical and Economic Solutions for the Medical Courier Business. The report is available as a free download by clicking here.
—by Joseph Burns