Doing well by doing good

June 21, 2018

This issue’s Management Matters article, “How healthcare CRM can drive profitability and efficiencies in toxicology labs,” by Diane Janowiak, BS, MT(ASCP), argues convincingly that higher volume does not necessarily mean more profit in toxicology testing, and that healthcare-focused customer relationship management systems can help labs analyze their business effectively and enhance business decisions.

In one subsection, “Facing strong headwinds,” the author summarizes some of the pressures that toxicology (and other) labs face these days, including, for example, reduced reimbursements. In addition, the article goes on to say:

…high-deductible healthcare plans are forcing consumers to foot a higher percentage of the bill for their testing. According to TransUnion Healthcare, patients paid 11 percent more in out-of-pocket costs in 2017 than the previous year. This is creating more savvy and discriminating healthcare consumers who are more likely to question the necessity of healthcare tests and procedures. (That’s a good thing for everyone in the long run, but a challenge for labs nonetheless.)

May I draw your attention to that last sentence above, the one in parentheses. The author did not write that sentence. I did, because I didn’t want to give the impression that the author, or MLO, thinks that educated consumers is a bad thing, or that we would prefer that patients accept prices without checking. MLO doesn’t believe that, and I’m sure Diane Janowiak doesn’t either, but I was afraid the paragraph would come off that way, so I added the sentence in question. (I sent the edited manuscript to the author for approval, of course.)

When I proofread the manuscript later, I thought about it again. Did I really need to add that sentence? Why did it seem necessary? Sometimes our most self-teachable moments occur when we look back at something we have done and use our critical thinking skills to analyze it.

The reason I added the sentence is that I felt defensive, because there may seem to be a grain of truth in the idea that the clinical lab industry can make more money if patients don’t think too much—if they just follow the doctor’s orders, submitting to all prescribed tests, some of them probably unnecessary or duplicative, and then labs collect their share of the money.

I believe most laboratorians don’t think that way, because they know that an educated healthcare consumer is actually good for their business. Such a consumer will comply with necessary testing, be responsible about follow-up testing appointments, and be pro-active in a number of ways—with regard to cancer screenings, for example—that a less informed patient might not be inclined to embrace.

The lab industry, like most industries, is sometimes challenged by the question: Should we do well (make as much money as we can this quarter) or do good (the morally or ethically right thing, even if it means leaving a few dollars on the table this quarter)?

Fortunately, in the long run, and probably in the short run too, we do well by doing good. If labs do their part to educate and inform patients (doing good), they are also increasing their business (doing well). And, they are staying true to the reason why most laboratorians entered the field in the first place: to be part of a system that promotes good health.