A Quest for More: Lab services provider posts steady growth

One of the key components of an annual physical exam is a run-of-the-mill blood test.

Once the blood is drawn, things aren’t so cut and dried: There’s a complex system operated by a huge corporation that ensures quality results overnight or even sooner.

Quest Diagnostics, the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services, serves the northwest lower peninsula with locations in Traverse City, Gaylord, Petoskey and Cadillac. With annual revenues of $7.5 billion and 43,000 employees, the company annually serves one in three adults and half of the physicians and hospitals across the country.

Every year, it provides thousands of lab services from genetic tests that can predict cancer risks, to blood tests for diabetes and heart disease, to pre-employment drug testing.

“Logistics is the key to quality testing,” said Matt Hamlin, vice president and general manager of the company’s Midwest region, which covers 19 states, including Michigan.

Hamlin’s operation uses a hub and spoke approach. The company’s main lab in Chicago serves as the hub. A lab in Troy (pictured above), which provides same-day testing and serves most of Michigan, operates as a spoke. For the Michigan market, most results are available by 8 a.m. Others that are not so urgent are flown to Chicago.

Quest has been in Michigan for 40 years, serving all parts of the state.

While keeping some details of the elaborate logistics system confidential, Hamlin noted that the lab in Troy operates 24 hours a day. The larger Chicago lab goes ’round the clock seven days a week. Quest has more than 800 employees across Michigan, with six serving the Traverse City-Petoskey-Cadillac area.

“Mostly we work with primary care physicians offices,” said Hamlin. “We also do some work with Munson Healthcare. Over the years our operations in Michigan have been very stable. It’s grown steadily, year after year.”

And the growth has been year-round, though summer is a somewhat busier time. Winter weather impacts the number of tests that Quest handles in northern Michigan.

How It Began

The company was founded in 1967 by Paul Brown, M.D., a pathology resident at The NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. From the beginning it was a low-budget operation. Using a $500 loan from his father-in-law, Dr. Brown launched Metropolitan Pathology Laboratory, Inc. (MetPath) in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan to provide better outpatient lab testing to area hospitals. The apartment’s bathtub served as the staining area for Pap test slides for cervical cancer.

“When I founded MetPath in a New York apartment, it was my goal to ensure patients could have quality diagnostic services to ensure the best health outcomes possible,” he said in a statement. “Today, Quest continues that legacy by providing laboratory services to one in three adult Americans and half the physicians and hospitals in the United States through its first-in-class diagnostic services. It is marvelous to see the Quest organization evolve over the years to have such a tremendous positive impact on the world.”

Corning Glass Works, a leading producer of high-tech glassware and fiber optics, acquired the company in 1982 and renamed it Corning Clinical Labs. It rapidly grew the business through acquisitions. It was later spun it off as a publicly traded company under the name Quest Diagnostics in 1997. At the time, the company had $1.5 billion in revenues and 16,300 employees.

“Over the years, Quest Diagnostics has grown as a result of its focus on innovation and quality,” said Hamlin. “The company has helped to introduce physicians and patients to several innovations, including molecular viral load testing for HIV, liquid-based Pap testing for cervical cancer screening and p53 gene sequencing for cancer, which are widely used today.”

The company also began to publish studies it conducted on its database to inform the public about health issues, beginning with its Drug Testing Index, an analysis of workplace drug test results, in 1988. The 2016 edition shows that for zip codes 49300-49399 the rate of positive urine tests ranged from 3.5 to 4.5 percent. The Michigan rate was 4.8 percent, while the national rate was 4.2 percent.

Another popular report is the Quest Diagnostic Health Trends, which reports on several topics ranging from pregnancy and influenza to allergies and diabetes.

Over five decades, Quest has developed several firsts for clinical laboratory tests in areas such as women’s health, genetics, infectious diseases and cancer. Last year, the company became the first commercial lab to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization for a molecular Zika test.

Derived from the world’s largest database of clinical lab results, the company’s diagnostic insights help to identify and treat disease, inspire healthy behaviors and improve healthcare management. Quest is the only diagnostic information services provider ranked among Forbes magazine’s Most Admired Companies list.

“There is inherent social value in the work we do each day to empower better health outcomes,” said Jeffrey S. Shuman, Quest senior vice president and chief human resources officer. “We are excited to be able to engage all of our colleagues at Quest to mark our 50th anniversary [in 2017] in a positive and impactful way. By partnering with our employees and non-profit organizations with aligned interests, we can build meaningful value for our patients, our customers and the communities in which we work and live.”