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BioReference: The accidental laboratory is growing fast

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BioReference is a one-stop shop for specialized physicians.
BioReference is a one-stop shop for specialized physicians. - (AARON HOUSTON)

Dr. Marc Grodman didn't intend to found a commercial laboratory when he went into business in 1981, much less a $700 million, publicly traded company with a growing national footprint.

Grodman's original plan was occupational medicine — serving firefighters, nursing home workers and other professions that require health verifications — out of a mobile van. Only problem: Grodman soon discovered there wasn't much money there.

He went shopping for a laboratory instead and in 1986 acquired Bio-Med Clinical, a New Jersey operation with New York licensure. Grodman later renamed the company BioReference Laboratories Inc.

“I needed to take care of my family,” said Grodman, also a part-time assistant professor of clinical medicine and staff physician at Columbia University. “I had a vision in occupational medicine that didn't work. I thought labs would have been a simpler business at the time. God was I wrong.”

Initial perceptions may have been wrong, but BioReference's growth has trended in the right direction ever since — helping it secure the No. 13 spot in the NJBIZ 50 Fastest Growing Companies in New Jersey.

BioReference grew revenue 18 percent last year — it expects to surpass $700 million revenue in 2013 — and employs about 2,900 workers in New Jersey, mostly at its Elmwood Park campus. It provides testing to doctor's offices, clinics, hospitals, governments, employers and other organizations.

BioReference's growth continues amid a sluggish economy, made more challenging by a health care environment where providers are constantly facing cuts to reimbursements.

Grodman says BioReference's survival strategy is serving as a one-stop shop for specialized physicians. Those specialties range from oncology to genetics and women's health — areas fueled by breakthroughs in technology. It even operates a Spanish franchise to serve the Latino population.

“By having multiple markets in which you compete, you have more ways to grow,” Grodman said. “Not all of them are going to be hot every year. So you can hedge your bets a little.”

The company's GenPath franchise is dedicated exclusively to women's health. Interest in that field has vastly expanded thanks partly to advances in how Pap smears, screening tests for cervical cancer, are conducted.

Grodman said the ability to automate Pap smears has led to discovery of an association between cervical cancer and human papillomavirus and other sexually infectious diseases. BioReference thus developed technology to perform multiple tests off a Pap smear, a service key to GenPath's identity.

“We have taken women's health to realize that women's health involves everything from infectious diseases, which we do, to everything about having cancer, which we do, to everything about having a baby,” Grodman said.

Dr. Paul Dicker, an OB-GYN who has worked with BioReference about 10 months, says BioReference's technology is supported by outstanding customer service. Dicker's Westwood office has converted to electronic medical records, a system replete with complex codes that can be easily miscommunicated without careful two-way attention.

“They have bent over backwards to make it as easy for us as possible,” Dicker said. “They make our lives easier, which in turn makes the patient experience that much better.”

Such initiatives have fueled organic growth. But as BioReference gets larger, it has begun hunting for acquisitions outside New Jersey. The company announced two acquisitions in August.

BioReference purchased Edge BioSystems, a provider of laboratory and genetic sequencing services in Gaithersburg, Md. The deal is expected to enable expansion of GeneDx, the company's existing laboratory in Maryland.

BioReference also purchased Hunter Laboratories, just south of San Francisco, whose customers include California's Medicaid system.

Grodman says the acquisitions don't weaken BioReference's New Jersey roots. But to maintain a national footprint, the company needs facilities close to its clients.

“If we're going to offer a one-stop shop, we have to be closer (to clients),” Grodman said. “There is only so much I can do here.”

E-mail to: tomz@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @biztzanki

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