In Argentina, Pathologists Don’t Operate Clinical Laboratories And Patients Deliver Their Own Lab Test Reports to Their Doctors

DATELINE-BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA: Believe it or not, Argentina is a country where pathologists are not associated with clinical laboratory testing! I am Argentina this week to speak to a group of laboratory owners, speak to health insurance executives, and visit clinical laboratories. My hosts on this trip are Sysmex Corporation and Roche Diagnostics Argentina.

The most startling thing that I learned is that pathologists do not own clinical laboratories in Argentina, nor do they manage clinical laboratories in hospitals. That responsibility is handled by clinical biochemists. Further, interaction between anatomic pathologists and clinical laboratories is relatively limited. This is a much different situation than the common clinical models and business arrangements used in the United States, Canada, and similar nations.

Another interesting difference is that doctors give their patients the laboratory test requisition. Patients then show up at the laboratory of their choice, where specimens are collected. When the results are ready, the laboratory contacts the patient, who comes by the laboratory or patient service center, picks up a paper copy of his or her test report, and then personally delivers the lab test report to his or her physician. This arrangement is counterintuitive to the American system. On the other hand, it does provide a powerful example that patients can reliably play a role this aspect of their healthcare.

Competition is intense among private laboratories in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There are private health insurance companies. Labs that bid for provider status in these contracts tend to keep the prices for lab testing at unprofitably low levels. Another factor in the financial struggles of the entire health system in Argentina was the devaluation of the Argentinian Peso in 2001. The purchasing power of the Peso fell by 66% overnight! This has made the purchase of laboratory testing instruments, reagents, and other laboratory consumables prohibitively expensive for labs in Argentina. The effects of this devaluation are still dragging down the finances of this countries’ lab industry.

During this week, I gained many useful insights about laboratory management, different business models for laboratory testing, and the opportunities for laboratories in the United States to benefit from some of the experience provided by the laboratory testing marketplace in Argentina. These are examples of how innovations by laboratories in one country can be adopted by labs in other countries. I hope to share some of the more powerful innovations with you in coming weeks.

Reporting from Buenos Aires, your faithful Editor,
Robert L. Michel

(E-mail Robert at