LDS tests positive for success
Diagnostic services clinic scores big by taking hospital overflow

The lineup to get a routine blood test at the Lakeshore General Hospital often takes an hour, and sometimes more. Patients wait in a crowded hallway, many stand, due to the lack of available chairs. Across the street at LDS Diagnostic Services, a private clinic, the waiting room is bright and airy, with two or three people leisurely reading back-issues of the Economist, New Yorker and other magazines.

According to Abraham Plotnick, the company's president, his goal is to get patients in-and-out of the lab in less-than eight minutes. But he is adamant about one thing. "Don't knock the hospitals," said Plotnick. "They do the best they can with what they have. We are not here to compete with them. We just want to handle their overflow."

Like many other companies that provide ancillary medical services, LDS has been on the front line of the debate over the growing strains on Quebec's medical system. The company has been in business since the 1970s and provides a range of blood and urine tests, electrocardiograms and related services for patients who are either not covered by medicare or who just don't want to wait in a crowded hospital corridor. According to Plotnick, the vast majority of LDS patients are covered by private insurance.

The company, which also has offices in Westmount, TMR, and about a half-dozen other locations is one of the larger players in a sector that is in a long-term growth phase. Like most health-care domains, diagnostic testing is slated to see significant growth in coming years as an aging, aching population demands an increasing number of medical tests and procedures.

In just the past five years, LDS's revenue's have shot up close to 50% from $4 million during 1998, to a projected $6 million this year.

Plotnick is a pharmacist by trade, who after thirty years in the business, decided to try something new. In the mid-1980s a tennis partner told him that LDS was up for sale, and along with two silent partners Plotnick took over the firm. Ruth Bessette, the company's vice-president in charge of laboratory services also owns a minority position.

Bessette holds one of the company's key operational roles. While at first glance running a routine series of tests seems easy, it's anything but. Data contained in blood tests often has life or death implications for the patients being tested.

That means labs need a comprehensive set of internal control procedures to ensure that blood samples don't get contaminated, lost or mixed up. Physicians use these test results to make important treatment decisions, and if they get the wrong data, the results can be fatal.

One of the key challenges in the testing field is the continuing lack of skilled technicians. There are only a few CEGEPs that produce the skilled professionals that LDS is looking for, and Bessette is in constant touch with them to ensure she gets access to the most promising graduates.

But it isn't always easy, so she and Plotnick pay a lot of attention to their employees. Plotnick personally greets each technician with a smile, a joke or a pat on the back, when he arrives at the office and he claims that they are among the best-paid technicians in the private sector. As a result turnover is low. Only three people left LDS last year, which in a company with 55 employees works out to a turnover of just 5.4 per cent.

According to one key industry regulator Plotnick and Bessette run a tight ship.

"I wish all Quebec labs operated like theirs," said Dr. Robert Lawrence, an inspector with Laboratoire de Santé Publique du Québec, who is charged with conducting periodic appraisals of Quebec's 48 private laboratories. "You can see just by walking through their offices that it is a well-run lab and that they take their business seriously."

Dr. Jean-Paul Groleau, a family physician who has known LDS for almost a quarter century, and who refers between 100 and 150 patients a year to them agreed. "As a physician, you need reliability and ease of access from testing labs," said Groleau. "LDS provides both."

In recent years Plotnick has worked hard to develop the contract research organization market, which now comprises close to half of LDS's revenues. Contract research organizations conduct clinical trials and other tests for pharmaceuticals manufacturers to determine the efficacy of drugs they have developed before they are brought to market.

During these tests, blood is drawn from study participants, and the samples are sent in bulk to LDS, which conducts the analysis. Quebec's pharmaceutical sector has seen significant investment during recent years and Plotnick expects that the CRO side of his business will continue to grow.

He is also keeping his eye open to new technologies to increase lab efficiency and is always looking for new markets. In recent months he has been taking a look at equipment that can do genotype testing on blood samples but no decision has been taken yet.




Photo caption: According to Abraham Plotnick, president of LDS Diagnostic Services, private testing services save patients time, are more convenient and costs are often covered by insurance plans.

Sidebar: Getting ahead

o Abraham Plotnick to over as president of LDS Diagnostic Services in 1987 after having bought out the company with two silent partners and Ruth Bessette, the company's vice-president (laboratory services).
o According to Plotnick, private laboratory services can typically provide faster and more convenient services which are often paid for by insurance companies. Private diagnostic services also lessen the burden on hospitals by handling their overflow.
o Like most medical services demand for private diagnostic testing is on a long-term up-trend due to an aging population. The testing is conducted by specialized lab technicians who are in big demand.
o In recent years LDS Diagnostic Services has been building up its base of contract research clients. These organizations test the effect of new drugs on humans, and to do so, they require large amounts of blood samples to be tested and analyzed.


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