Impacting the future of Canadian health care
By Cheryl Long
What does the future of health care look like? In Jason Pincock’s world, it’s a place where labs and physicians work together to diagnose conditions and put patients on a road to wellness. It would also see patients take greater ownership of managing their chronic conditions and overall health rather than waiting for the doctor to sound the alarm.
The demands on Canada’s health-care system are expected to rise substantially as the baby boomer generation ages. In fact, Statistics Canada reported recently that for the first time, the country has more people age 65 and older than there are residents under age 15. Not only does that shift reduce the number of working people contributing to the country’s economy, but it puts increased pressure on health-care resources as the aging process naturally contributes to a rise in chronic conditions.
Getting Canadians involved in their health care and encouraging them to not only take control of managing existing conditions but to also work towards a healthier lifestyle that may prevent disease are steps in the right direction, says the CEO of Alberta-based DynaLIFE Dx.
“Lab will play a very integral role in really improving accountability in the Canadian public’s health in general, as well as providing tools for people to self-monitor both wellness and chronic disease,” Pincock said.
One of three major labs in Canada
DynaLIFE Dx is one of only three major private labs in Canada, operating on a playing field that spans the globe. Diagnostics can no longer be run safely or efficiently as a small business, Pincock said, and that means both competing and sharing information with their international counterparts. While technology is enabling some diagnostics at the patient’s bedside, the foundational system will continue to be comprised of large and complex support structures for the foreseeable future.
“We actually work with global vendors and global lab providers to look at best practices, to look at best methodologies, to look at competitive technologies. A lot of our time is actually spent discovering things outside of Canada versus just comparing ourselves internally within Canada simply because the market is just not big enough here in terms of enough players. Lab has become a very international type of industry; we can learn a great deal from other labs about their methods and technologies while many come and visit our lab for the same reasons.”
As one of the largest private medical pathology groups in Canada, DynaLIFE Dx impacts the lives of patients every day through lab testing services that support acute care patients in large urban and regional hospitals and health centres, as well as providing more than 30 patient care centres throughout northern Alberta that offer collection services for community physicians. Approximately 500 employees along with 40 medical and scientific staff complete about 18 million tests annually at the company’s expansive facility in downtown Edmonton, Pincock said, for a total staff count of about 1,200. Established in 1995, the organization tailors its services to meet the needs of each community, whether that means travelling to the residence of a medically housebound patient as part of their home collection service or providing both STAT and routine laboratory services to support hospital patients.
Pincock joined the organization in 1996 and took over the CEO position in 2008. During that period, he has seen extensive changes come about as a result of technological advancements. “It’s gone from very manual processes to highly automated and computerized. The introduction of genetics and molecular testing have opened a new world of testing modalities. We used to joke … we actually have staff in the organization who have been with the organization for 45 years and they tell stories of doing pregnancy tests using frogs, and now our world couldn’t be more different,” he said. “Now we’re dealing with looking for things at a DNA level so it’s fascinating to see the change in technology and medicine in only a generation.”
New technology brought to North America
Less than two years ago, DynaLIFE Dx brought a new technology into North America that had previously only been available in Europe. Considered the next generation of microbiology, the BD Kiestra system facilitates faster test results at a higher level of quality to physicians, which can ultimately lead to a more accurate diagnosis and shorter hospital stays for patients. Most importantly, it enables patients to receive life-saving antibiotics and therapies earlier and in a more targeted treatment than ever before.
Over the years, there has been a growing trend within the medical community to rely more on lab results when making decisions surrounding patient care. “There’s lots of stats out there like ‘over 80 percent of physician decisions are based on lab tests’. There is a massive dependency now on diagnostics that was not there before so, as a result of the changes in technology and the change in demographics, the demand for lab services has risen dramatically and steadily,” Pincock explained. “It’s been between five and seven percent growth every year, year after year, despite population changes.”
In addition, it’s no longer feasible for most hospitals to operate their own small, full-service independent labs. In many cases, some services are now contracted out to larger organizations like DynaLIFE Dx that can ensure the sustainability and high level of quality achieved through advanced technology, critical human resources and large-scale logistics and integration, Pincock said.
Today, it’s all about how quickly results can be delivered and thanks to advances in both information and diagnostic technology, those results can be provided to physicians as soon as they come in. “Changes in technology have allowed us to make radical shifts in the time required to do the actual testing… Ultimately what physicians care about is how quickly and accurately can you give me an answer to my question. Help me … help my patient.”
Paper results a thing of the past
In some provinces, patients can now access their results online and are even checking their lab values before their doctors see them. That’s a trend that Pincock expects to eventually see happen in Alberta. The days of doctors waiting for paper results to be delivered by courier —and patients scheduling follow-up appointments weeks later — are a thing of the past.
The availability of diagnostics to patients signals the next big shift in medicine, Pincock said, and will help to create an environment where patients play a larger, more accountable role in their own health care. Being able to self-monitor and self-regulate based on lab values, especially for people living with conditions such as diabetes, will not only be empowering but has the potential to ease some of the strain on an already over-burdened health-care system. Typically, physicians will only alert patients when their values go outside accepted lab ranges. But if a patient sees a number increase steadily over a number of years — even if they still fall within the normal range — it could signal a potentially alarming trend that might spark lifestyle changes before medical intervention is needed.
“It’s more likely that patients will actually track their progress. Even if they were within the normal range, if you’re seeing it elevate year after year after year, you’re going to flag that whereas your physician may not necessarily see that because he’s maybe viewing your results in isolation of that specific visit,” Pincock said. “But the moment you start tracking and seeing that your cholesterol has been steadily rising over your last eight appointments with your physician, well there’s more likelihood you’re going to do something about it…”
DynaLIFE Dx achieves Gold Standard status
DynaLIFE Dx is well-established as an organization that embraces innovation and strives to change the course of health care for both physicians and patients. But they also have a business model that has earned the organization a place among Canada’s Best Managed Companies. This year they reached the Gold Standard level, which is awarded to businesses that have maintained their designation for four consecutive years. In fact, Pincock said he believes his company is the only medical organization in Canada to achieve Gold Standard status.
“I think (the Best Managed program) has changed how we look at challenges … we look at them in a more balanced approach and what it does, in a safe way, is it allows someone else into your organization and by simply having to complete that process, it points out areas where you may, in your industry and compared to your peers, be a rock star but in comparison to other industries on things like risk management or HR practices, there’s maybe more for you to learn. It’s a great opportunity to step outside your industry and it points out opportunities for your organization to improve…”
The achievement is a morale booster for employees as well, validating how they feel about the company’s culture and instilling a sense of pride. Being a Best Managed company is now part of DynaLIFE Dx’s identity, Pincock said, and it pushes everyone to do their best. The idea of losing their status or moving away from the principles embraced by the program is inconceivable, he said.
To learn more about DynaLIFE Dx, visit www.dynalifedx.com.