PAML: Exploring The Future of Diagnostics and Service
The strongest businesses are those that never stop improving. Laboratory and diagnostic solutions company Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories (PAML) has been consistently ranked one of the top reference laboratories in the country. But as PAML President and CEO Dr. Francisco Velázquez understands, such rankings are not permanent. As medical technology evolves, PAML works tirelessly to meet its clients’ changing needs and stay on top as a preferred source for the medical and allied health communities.
Staying current in a digital world
“We are living more and more in a digital world, as are our clients,” says Velázquez. This truth is a catalyst for PAML’s commitment to improve its in-house IT resources, while also building strategic partnerships to increase its range of high-tech capabilities from apps to self-service kiosks.
“We are working diligently right now to be able to deploy self-service kiosks in a variety of our regions, because that is something that patients are becoming more used to—as are hand-held devices, which we have several pilots of across the country,” says Velázquez. “Our clients don’t have to go and look for information—the information will follow them and alert them wherever they might be.”
Tackling customer service on another front, PAML recently updated its website and client portal in a move that significantly increased functionality and ease of use as well as brought the company’s client interface into the modern age.
“I think our website not only has increased in functionality but also has a more contemporary look,” says Velázquez. “It needed a refresh to stay current with the look and feel that customers expect from successful websites nowadays. It certainly has made it easier for people to communicate with us because of the functionality in the client portal that we have.”
In addition to these current updates, PAML is also exploring ways to continue innovating into the future, including ways to automate its operations wherever possible in order to provide a smoother and more streamlined line of communication for clients.
“We consumers are very critical of time,” says Velázquez. “Anything that adds steps, takes too long, or isn’t convenient, we are less tolerant of than we were a few years ago—and rightfully so. Automation and digital solutions go a long way toward addressing that.”
Accounting for growth
PAML is no stranger to success: the company has experienced record growth in recent years, and this trend is not expected to end any time soon. Above anything else, PAML attributes this success to its simple focus on quality and customer service.
“We don’t focus our conversations and negotiations with potential clients on pricing,” says Velázquez. “We focus on quality and service—particularly, how can we help them achieve their goals? Of course we need to be cost effective, which we are, but we focus on synergy, on how complementary we are to you, and whether we are a good fit for what you’re trying to do.”
There is a concrete logic to this strategy—while a low bottom line is always a factor, the adage that “you get what you pay for” is all too often true. At the end of the day what matters most is striking a balance between exceptional value and a high quality product. PAML’s efforts to achieve this balance have been instrumental in the company’s 98.5 percent customer satisfaction rating.
“We have made a conscious effort over the last few years on quality and service,” says Velázquez. “If we have good service and superior quality, then the rest falls into place. But if you have service lapses or poor quality, it doesn’t matter what you have—you’re not going to create a long term relationship.”
“In terms of growth, we’re aiming at another record year. I think the numbers speak for themselves,” says Velázquez, noting that March 2016 marked the most successful month in PAML history in terms of volume. To maintain this steady and sustained growth, PAML is employing several modes of development and expansion from its electronic capabilities to its testing repertoire.
“In order for us to maintain a value proposition that is significant to clients, we have invested a fair amount of time, effort and money this year into expanding our laboratory capabilities,” says Velázquez. “We need to have a product that is consistent with the needs of our clients, and we’re working really hard on that. We are also continuing to expand our electronic capabilities by improving websites and portals, improving things that may not be as visible but are highly important like connectivity, and in a couple of regions we have expanded to work with regional systems which allows us to be part of our clients’ continuum of care and their value proposition.”
PAML is also as hard at work as ever to continue improving costs to provide better value for its clients. “We drop our own operating expenses about five percent or so at a minimum every year, which allows us to remain cost competitive, because our clients also face a lot of financial pressures,” says Velázquez. “It’s all part of our remaining in line with our clients—we have to ensure that paying for laboratory services does not become an issue for them because we’ve priced ourselves out of the market.”
All of these efforts may take time, but each one carries PAML closer to its goal: to provide an exceptional level of service to its clients. It may not be the fastest way to grow, but it’s growth that will stand the test of time.
“Our goal is not to be the biggest; our goal is to be the best,” says Velázquez. “If we grow as a result of that, then that is wonderful. But we’re not looking for numbers, we’re looking for relationships. That’s the approach we take, and that is why we keep growing.”
NHS staff face severe impact on mental health due to COVID
The decision to drop COVID-19 restrictions in England this month alarmed doctors in the National Health Service (NHS) while hospitalisations are on the rise. At the same time, hospitals have started cancelling operations again adding to the existing backlog of operations, which estimates say could take a year to clear.
Dr James Gilleen of the University of Roehampton and his Covida Project team are warning of the ongoing risks to the mental health of NHS staff, many of whom are traumatised from the first wave of infections. “As the UK continues to see COVID-19 infection numbers rise at a similarly alarming rate as those seen during the country’s second wave, it’s combined with a renewed strain on the NHS and its staff" he said.
The Covida Project is a digital tool created to assess the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on frontline workers including NHS staff, the police and carers.
“Healthcare workers are already exhausted and burnt-out; they are traumatised from their experiences of working during the pandemic. During the first wave in May 2020, a study from the Covida Project found an unprecedented quadrupling of the number of NHS staff with high levels of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to before Covid-19" Gilleen said.
"Having the most severe levels of these symptoms was statistically linked to four key factors - insufficient access or pressure to reuse Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), insufficient workplace preparation, insufficient training and communications, and a higher workload. Staff aren’t just anxious, depressed and traumatised from being over-worked – it is from feeling unsafe and at risk."
The Covida Project found that almost a third of healthcare workers reported moderate to severe levels of anxiety and depression. The number reporting very high symptoms was four times higher than before the pandemic.
Gilleen adds, “With COVID-19 restrictions now fully removed in England, NHS staff face the daunting triple-threat of rising Covid-19 hospitalisations, huge backlogs of medical operations to clear, and the added expectation of large increases in winter flu, which is already being seen even now in summer.
"These difficulties are present at a time when the NHS is already under-resourced, impacted by sickness and/or staff being ‘pinged’ to self-isolate through the government’s track and trace app, and staff continuing to fear the daily risk of infecting family and friends.
"Together these are considerable psychological burdens and create a perfect storm for the mental health and well-being of NHS staff."
Gilleen says there may be worse to come, especially if new, more transmissible variants develop. "Previous research after other pandemics such as SARS has shown that residual mental health symptoms like PTSD can continue for years, so the impact of repeated waves over the long-term will be potentially catastrophic for the mental health of NHS staff.
He has some clear recommendations to protect the wellbeing of frontline healthcare workers. “To protect the mental health of NHS staff they must feel they are less at risk or in danger, have access to the required level of PPE, not be continuously over-worked, with better staffing, more opportunities for rest and space to share their stress.
"Despite this and similar findings from other studies, still not enough is being done to protect NHS staff mental health and wellbeing and we fear it will continue to suffer in the months to come. With this comes the real risk that large numbers of staff will burn out or even quit the NHS.”