New Jersey Lab Testing Company to Focus on Spanish Speakers

Andrew Kitchenman | January 9, 2013 | Health Care
'Spanish-first' scheme could reduce unnecessary testing, increase accuracy, cut healthcare costs

BioReference president and CEO Dr. Marc D. Grodman.
BioReference, a laboratory testing company in Elmwood Park, has launched a business unit that caters to Spanish speakers, reflecting the demand for healthcare services in an underserved population.

The new Laboratorio Buena Salud will provide services on a “Spanish first” basis, in which all phone calls will be conducted in Spanish. According to the company, it is the first national testing lab that will primarily serve a Spanish-speaking population.

BioReference has 21 lab locations throughout the state. While most are in northern New Jersey, one is located as far south as Glassboro. The Spanish language capabilities, however, are primarily being offered by telephone and online.

“These are new jobs for people who speak Spanish first,” said BioReference president and CEO Dr. Marc D. Grodman. “The conversation starts in Spanish.”

Company officials said that this approach has the potential to reduce unnecessary testing that results from language difficulties and lead to more accurate test diagnoses, better care, and lower healthcare costs. Employees will be able to speak English if necessary.

According census estimates, 1.22 million New Jersey residents over 5 years old speak Spanish at home, 14.8 percent of the state’s population. Of those, 577,000 speak English “less than very well,” equal to 7 percent of the state’s population.

Grodman said the service originated from comments the company heard from clients. He said that it would meet a demand from doctors, medical office staffs, and patients.

“We realized that laboratories are defined by markets and not all doctors are the same, so we’ve used our clinical and scientific expertise to build a laboratory that often works for the needs of different kinds of physicians,” Grodman said.

While BioReference will still do the tests itself, more than 20 customer service, billing, and marketing staff will be devoted to Laboratorio Buena Salud.

BioReference also has business units that focus on women’s health, cancer, and genetics testing, each with its own staff. The services that it offers range from routine to complex tests focusing on genetics, tumors, and leukemia analysis, as well as molecular diagnostics and prenatal testing.

Grodman said that the defining characteristic of some medical practices is the population they serve rather than the doctors’ specialties.

“There are many physicians not only in the Northeast but around the country where the ability of offering bilingual services is not an option, it’s a necessity,” Grodman said. “It goes beyond just the concept of saying Spanish is pressing ‘two’ on your phone options.”

While BioReference is smaller than industry giants like Quest Diagnostics, it has been growing since it was founded in 1986, reaching $700 million in revenue with 3,500 employees.

Grodman attributes the growth to the company listening to clients.

“The reason why we’ve grown has been from hearing those areas of frustration,” Grodman said. “Clients don’t tell you what to do, physicians and patients don’t tell you what to do, they give us the inspiration for what we can bring to them. That’s the reason we’ve grown the way we have.”

By providing customer service primarily in Spanish, Laboratorio Buena Salud “shows an underlying respect for this emerging and growing population,” Grodman said.

Grodman said medical service providers should be aggressive in hiring workers to meet the needs of clients.

“Laboratories are not defined by bricks and mortar only, they’re defined by those areas that touch patients and professionals,” Grodman said, adding that he expects the investment in Spanish-speaking workers to be effective. “We’ve always believed that it is worth it to bring the laboratory service to the physicians and patients rather than have them conform to the laboratory.”

The service had a “soft launch” in November in New Jersey and New York; Grodman plans for it to be offered in states around the country, including Texas.

While much of BioReference’s work is for large community health centers that conduct business primarily in English, they frequently have doctors, staff members and customers who would be more comfortable with a Spanish lab.

“The reaction that we have gotten from physicians so far has been incredibly supportive,” he said.

Laboratorio Buena Salud sales director Miguel Sanchez said there has been interest from medical offices in Union City and Passaic.

“It makes them really comfortable,” Sanchez said of the option of doing business in Spanish.