Bluewater Health Contracts Private Lab Services

I participated in a Sarnia Health Coalition meeting that reinforced my suspicion that my estimate of a billion public health care dollars a year paid to for-profit laboratory companies is on the low side.  The Bluewater Hospitals ship many of the lab tests they cannot do on-site to LifeLabs or Gamma-Dynacare for processing.  When I asked members of the audience why they were not sent to a larger public hospital, like the teaching hospital complex in London, at least as close as the for-profit facilities, they said there was no mechanisms or structure to support that referral.  The value of these referrals and the contract arrangements are not known. 

This example, which is not uncommon with many hospitals buying services from private laboratories, highlights another serious problem with the use of private corporations by the public health care system: a lack of accountability. We do not know what contracts are in place, how much private corporations are paid or whether public sector alternatives were considered. 

The Sarnia meeting also had a lively discussion on quality in lab services.  Those present who were familiar with the hospital laboratory services made a strong argument that the technical quality of the private labs and the hospital labs was similar.  Both labs use the same reagents, technology and have the same quality assurance programs.  At the same time, some in the audience had complaints about lack of access to the private facilities, long turnaround times and difficulties obtaining results, highlighting the decrease in quality that comes from a system divided between community and inpatient services with competing organizations performing similar work.

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