March 2008

Dr. Lal Path Labs

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Dr.Lal Path Labs was established in 1949 by  Major S.K. Lal. One of India’s largest medical diagnostics company, it is primarily Delhi-based, though it has a pan-India presence. The total    employee strength stands at 900. The technical core works hand-in-hand with the commercial wing in an ongoing attempt to scale-up operations.

The Growth Story

The company expanded rapidly to other parts of north India and across the country, such as Kolkata, Bombay and Bangalore. Starting with about 10 labs in 2005, today that number stands at 27 and plans are afoot to take this number to 50 by March 2009. Delhi itself presently has 7 satellite labs.

Located at Hanuman Road, Connaught Place, it is the first lab established by LPL in 1949. Equipped with highly sophisticated and state of the art instruments for testing in the field of Biochemistry & Immunoassays, High Performance Liquid Chromatography, Electrophoresis, Coagulation, Tandem Mass Spectrometry, Hematology, Histopathology, Cytopathology, Serology, Microbiology, Clinical Pathology and Immunology. It is open 24 X 7, enabling the company to service the market at any time. The laboratory acts as a central testing hub for Satellite labs, Pick-up points and Collection centres all over India.

The organisation has a pyramid structure with a central lab at Delhi, also called the reference lab. It does about 1650 tests, the widest menu by any lab in the country. In June 2007, Dr Lal Path Labs opened two high hi-tech laboratories in Kolkata. They have hi-tech laboratories in Mumbai, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Bangalore, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Bhopal, Nagpur, Pune and Guwahati also.

Lower on the structure are the satellite labs. These perform 300-500 routine tests. Each satellite lab is flanked by sample collection centres. Presently there are 600 collection centres which is expected to touch 1000 by 2009-2010. Collection centres are franchisees though laboratories are owned by the company. A state-of-the art 4,000 sq ft facility was recently set up at its Gurgaon headquarters, exclusively for clinical trial operations.

This ensures that quality is maintained. Dr. Lal’s now operates what are called Patient Service Centres (PSC). These fall between a collection centre and a satellite lab. The difference between a lab and a PSC is that a patient will get all the services of a lab, except the testing. The experience is the same as would be when you walk into a lab. You can give the blood sample, you can have any query answered and collect your report.

Use Of IT

Quality is non-negotiable in this industry and Dr. Lal Path Labs ensure that all their labs are interconnected and the test reports are validated by a central pool of pathologists at the centre, before being delivered to the patient.

Each instrument is interfaced with a Unix-based Lab Information System – LIS. This LIS, called Ultra, is from Triple G (now with GE). Triple G is used by at least 100 top-notch labs in the world for LIS. Dr. Lal’s bought Triple G for 8 of their labs in 1999, making them the pioneers of LIS in India. Each instrument is bi-directionally interfaced with Ultra. The instrument speaks to the application and vice versa. This helps in monitoring quality in each of the labs. A process of validation is followed, where the values of various parameters are shaped to ensure that they are meeting the company’s SOP’s on quality.

There are two levels of quality control. The first is within the lab itself where the chief of a lab checks the reports. The other is that on a real time basis, the data also gets transmitted to the main lab in Delhi. The report sitting in Delhi is also monitored.

The second area where IT is used is between centres. The sample from the local lab might get split into two. Some tests will be done locally and others at the centre. The container has a bar code which the computer or other such instrument will recognise. The instrument speaks through the LIS and picks up the details of the tests to be conducted on that sample. Through this technology, it is also possible for the report to be delivered at a third location.

Speed is very important, along with accuracy of the report. The moment a sample is collected, the registration time and collection time is noted. Thereafter, every step is tracked until the report is finally uploaded onto the system. Patients can then download it from anywhere. This report is a valid document � just like downloading an account statement from the net. Even so, a hard copy of the report is made available. This ensures that immediate action is taken on the treatment. There are times when the doctor is also provided access and he can see the report on the website. At Dr. Lal Path Labs, you can also receive a collation of earlier reports in a tabular form.

Tele-registration services are available in the Delhi branches and is being well received. This way patients can  register the previous evening, which helps ease the rush and saves time for both the patient and lab employees.

Their website too was recently re-launched and is now more user-friendly, knowledge-based and more interactive. Plans are afoot to find innovative ways of engaging and educating the patient during his/her waiting time. A screen relaying information is one such example.

Accreditations and In-House R&D

In 2002, Dr. Lal’s Path Labs was the first in India to be accredited by the College of American Pathologists, the highest accreditation in the world. It is also accredited by Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) and ISO 9001:2000. Another distinction it has under its belt is that it owns 7 out of 100 National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL)-accredited labs in India.

The clinical trial business is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years and about 30% of that will be relevant for lab business. Dr. Lal Path Labs’ Gurgaon facility is fully dedicated for clinical trials. Trials are conducted for domestic pharma companies and the lab’s capabilities are being increased so that it can cater to MNC’s as well. An 82,000 sq. ft laboratory at Rohini, North Delhi, is expected to be in place this year. LPL has one of the oldest and most structured lab network in the industry.

A bar code – based Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is already used to track samples and they are looking at ways to use the technology to further speed up the process and register the samples in-transit, especially those collected from the patient’s residence.

The company has the most advanced neonatal screening tests for screening newborn babies for genetic disorders called Inborn Errors of Metabolism (IEM), where a single blood spot taken from the heel puncture of a newborn detects 30 such IEMs.

In the Pipeline

Patient ID system. Each patient will be given a unique number. They already have a mechanism to keep track of patients’ data through date of birth as well as name of the person, keeping an EMR of the persons who have had their tests done at Dr. Lal Path Labs, for the last 8-9 years.

More services to the patient. One of these is home collection of samples. Patients will be able to place the order on the net through the customer service. An appointment is fixed, and the sample picked up � anytime and from anywhere. The report can be downloaded from the net. Payment too can be made online.

Market expansion. LPL is focusing on geographical expansion within India and increasing its market share in strongholds like Delhi. They plan to have 50 labs, 50 PSCs and about 1000 collection centres all interconnected on real-time basis.

Clinical trials. Outsourcing presents significant opportunities from the US and the Western world. An operating model has already been established and tested wherein samples from the US can be tested here, maintaining the highest standards. Tie-ups with US companies are in the offing.

ERP and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Innovative marketing campaigns that will allow flexible interfacing with hospital information systems (HIS). They are also looking at getting hospitals to outsource their testing. Reports will be accessible on HIS. The high speed part will be taken care of by technology-enabled innovations in terms of registration, downloading of reports, or quick validation.

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