Southern Community Laboratories

New Investment, New Zealand

Moving forward to meet an increasingly digitalised and consolidated healthcare sector, we take a look at Southern Community Laboratories and speak to Peter Gootjes, CEO, about the company’s latest developments  
 
Writer: Marcus Kääpä  |  Project Manager: Callam Waller
 
 
“After gaining a medical degree I sought to work in a managerial position within the healthcare sector. I obtained qualifications in medical management, including hospital management, and was then invited to apply for a role at a pathology firm. 27 years later I have moved through several positions, such as business development manager, and now I am CEO of the company; one of the bigger medical diagnostic groups in New Zealand, in an industry that I love.”
 
Peter Gootjes, CEO of Southern Community Laboratories (SCL), has spent his life amid medical experts collectively bettering the healthcare sector of New Zealand for almost three decades. SCL exists as a company under the wider Asia Pacific Healthcare Group (APHG). In contrast to its position in the present day, SCL began as a small private pathology service in the South Island city of Dunedin in the 1960s. Since then, its operations have progressively expanded to become part of New Zealand’s largest network of diagnostic laboratories, providing medical services over most of the country.
 
“Our laboratories offer a wide range of diagnostic tests in biochemistry, haematology, microbiology, immunology, molecular pathology, histology and cytology,” Gootjes informs us. “They are equipped with the newest analysers and state-of-the-art computer systems. Most of our routine patient test results are reported back to the requesting doctors within 24 hours of specimen collection.”

“We have always been run by medical experts and we make sure that we understand the wants and needs of our customers and those they serve”

Peter Gootjes, CEO, SCL
LEADING THE WAY IN NZ
SCL places its company focus on providing top-quality laboratory services for health professionals and their patients, and the company has branches in smaller provincial towns as well as larger cities across New Zealand.
 
“SCL has grown from its earlier days roughly 60 years ago to be one of the largest laboratory companies in the country,” Gootjes says. “Nation-wide we work with 18 laboratories and 82 collection rooms, providing services to GPs and specialists in the private sector, as well as services to public hospitals.
 
“We have always been run by medical experts and we make sure that we understand the wants and needs of our customers and those they serve. We visit and talk with them to ensure that we know exactly what they need so that we can answer that demand, and I believe that these close-knit relationships make SCL stand out in the sector.”
 
DEVELOPING HEALTHCARE
On top of accommodating the specific needs of its customers in the medical field, SCL sees an important advantage in the investment of the latest technologies, IT innovations and business improvements to not only maintain an edge in the sector but also pave the way for progressive and new aspects of business in healthcare. Quick off-the-mark to develop COVID-19 testing, cost and operational efficiencies, and listening to its own staff are existing business elements that make SCL a leading company in New Zealand. This progressive mindset has been a relatively new aspect of SCL, as Gootjes elaborates.
 
“There was a trend in the 1990s for restructuring of the healthcare sector in New Zealand,” he reflects. “This was almost continuous restructuring that stopped around the year 2000 until last year.
 
“There has been a recent movement forwards when it comes to restructuring the industry, and this has been very smooth because COVID-19 has not impacted the country as much as in many other countries; the virus has been handled incredibly well through border control, vaccines and our natural sea barriers, and as such has not been a major event for the sector. But with regards to restructuring, the country is moving towards a single centralised system under which all government funded healthcare will be based.”
 
This national healthcare system will operate with a central body across New Zealand, and fittingly, SCL is internally incorporating a microcosmic version of such a system.
 
“The two major companies under APHG, of which SCL is one, operate on two different systems that are separated and individual,” Gootjes explains. “We are currently undergoing a major project to align these systems and bring everything, spanning both companies, under one umbrella system that will increase ease, efficiency and make processes much smoother and fluid”.

“We aim to improve and develop our staff through company means for the betterment of the individual and the business”

Peter Gootjes, CEO, SCL
INVESTING IN HEALTHCARE
It is no surprise that digitalisation is at the forefront of development efforts for companies across the globe. With COVID-19 having fast-tracked the implementation and necessity of the latest technologies and online software and services, the healthcare sector, both internationally and in New Zealand, has recognised the importance and operational advantage of utilising digital means.
 
Within this space, SCL has placed a heavy focus on the digital sphere, its innovative offers, and how these can bring operational fluidity to present healthcare in the country.
 
“Traditionally in the healthcare sector people write medical letters or print out forms to take to hospitals or the other medical institutions,” Gootjes explains. “In order to reduce this inefficiency, we have taken action to move on to electronic orders, known as ‘e-orders’.
 
“Clients now send through orders digitally; forms that remain on record online with the reduced chance for human error both regarding information and the stored location of such forms. This really eliminates the prospect of mistakes and slow processes, and SCL is currently one of the leading members using such e-orders.”
 
Alongside this, SCL is looking towards genetic sequencing as a service that comes in particularly useful when considering medical fields such as oncology and the related identification of genetic hereditary cancers. In fields such as this, genetic sequencing becomes an invaluable tool to invest in to help highlight genetic mutations and hereditary issues many people may face.
 
“And digital pathology is another area of investment for us,” Gootjes tells us. “Where classically pathologists would look at glass slides on a microscope to view tissue samples, we are undertaking a project to set up across all of our sites a digitalised version of this that improves the overall process.
 
“This involves running the slides through a scanner and producing a digital image that provides many obvious advantages; images can be sent digitally for further medical opinions, or primary diagnostics can be displayed on computer screens. I believe that it is the way of the future, and SCL is investing significantly into implementing this technology.”

Each of these projects and investments are SCL’s way of maintaining streamlined processes in the present and into the future, a core aim of the company for the years ahead.
THE CORE OF SCL
When it comes to its employees, SCL recognises the importance of experts in the business. The company itself is home to 1,200 members of staff while the wider APHG group is made up of 2,000. For Gootjes the people of SCL are the reason the company has grown so successfully over the recent decade.
 
“We do our best to look after our staff, and this is returned with a very loyal core of long serving employees,” he assures us. “We run annual awards to celebrate the exceptional service of individuals, and we also run engagement surveys to ensure that we gain feedback to see what our employees need, what they want, and what they think of the company and how we operate.
 
“Company training systems are also present, and we aim to improve and develop our staff through this company training. In-house management training courses are something that we have recently been running, which is a very good way to produce management personnel who innately understand our systems and have knowledge on how best to run them. Staff are our major asset and make up half of our company cost structure, so we invest to try to retain these staff as much as possible and keep them happy.
 
“At the centre of SCL we have a great team of people that keep things going.”