Interview with Dr Hassib Sahyoun Chairman and CEO, Medlabs Consultancy Group
Medlabs started in 1993. What made you see an opportunity in the healthcare and laboratories field?
I saw the limitations of the ‘one-man show’ laboratories that were prevalent, and I was determined to create an institution that encompassed more specialists and had long-term sustainability. I also saw the high standards in Europe and wanted that for Jordan.
In 1995, MedLabs became the first private laboratory accredited by the Ministry of Health to train medical technicians to become licensed laboratory directors. That same year we introduced the first genetic laboratory in Jordan. Soon after we opened a lab in Palestine. That was our first phase: the pioneering phase.
Our second phase was systemisation and differentiation, which is when we diversified and expanded on business development, quality assurance and safety standards compliance. We are the only laboratory company in the Levant region to achieve the highest international quality accreditations, including the College of American Pathologists (CAP) accreditation, the European ISO 9001:2000 and ISO 15189, and the King Abdullah II Award for Excellence.
Since 2013, we have moved to our current organisational phase, which is the path towards becoming a sustainable integrated enterprise. This is an exciting phase where we are re-focusing on making sure that all our work ultimately nurtures a healthy society.
Today we have over 50 laboratories. Our growth led to a diversification of services and an expansion of our test menu, which has allowed us to serve and encourage medical tourism.
Speaking of medical tourism, would you say the infrastructure is in place in terms of hospitals and practitioners for it to be a significant industry for Jordan?
If the laboratory sector were of high standard and the rest of the health sector were not, we wouldn’t attract medical tourism. But in Jordan the entire health sector, including our doctors, practitioners, hospitals and all related services, is of a very high standard.
We have become a hub for the region and for highly specialised services, since we have the accreditations and the specialists. Patients used to go to Europe for medical services, now we are capturing part of this market as we have competitive prices and a faster turn-around. This is our contribution to the country and its export market.
Could you elaborate on the network of private partners that you have in the region?
We have a close relationship with Palestine, and we set up laboratories of a very high standard there. All our employees are Palestinian, so we are creating jobs and will continue to do that. For security reasons, we opened business in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, in 2012. There we have a joint venture with local investors, and we are also employing locals.
In terms of expansion, there are two major stumbling blocks. Firstly, the politics in the region, and secondly, corrupt markets. In the Levant, corruption is quite limited, therefore we see good possibilities for expansion in Lebanon, Palestine, Northern Iraq and Syria. Other potential markets include Morocco, Algeria, Greece and Cyprus.
We are working closely with the Ministry of Health here in Jordan to keep the sector free of corruption, such as doctors giving patients referrals to certain labs in exchange for a commission, or anything that is detrimental to patients’ rights.
Can you tell us about the reference, consulting and training part of your work?
As a fully accredited institution, we serve hundreds of laboratories from countries across the MENA region for their esoteric testing needs. We offer competitive prices, fast turn-around, and the convenience of being in the same region with the same weekends and language.
All our systems are cloud-based and as with any reference laboratory in Europe or the US, our laboratory clients can follow their samples and receive results online.
In terms of consulting, we have a strong human resources team that is highly qualified and experienced in the field. We have teams that provide consultancy and training to labs across the region. For example, we’ve conducted in-house laboratory training in Libya, Saudi Arabia and Northern Iraq to help them get international accreditation.
In addition, we offer turn-key laboratory management services from design to equipment recommendations to feasibility studies to day-to-day management systems. We believe that medical services should benefit all Jordanians, and this is more important to us than competition. In the end, it truly elevates the whole medical sector.
“If the laboratories were of high standard and the rest of the health sector were not, we wouldn’t attract medical tourism. But in Jordan the entire health sector is of a very high standard.”
What is the synergy between your group and the universities of Jordan?
Our specific sector contributes significantly to the employment of university graduates. At our institution, we employ 60-80 university graduates each year, thanks to our expansion strategy. Our target is to continue to create jobs.
We have always worked with local universities, but we aim to expand our cooperation with them in the coming years. We often work with students who have recently graduated to offer internships and postgraduate on-the-bench training.
In 2018, we are hoping to open the MedLabs Academy where graduates can come and train, probably for a four-month period. The concentration will be on technical training, medical ethics, quality control, accreditation requirements and patient care. We will be the the first such academy in the region and we will be working closely with EBRD to produce a well-trained medical laboratories workforce.
We will also be making these courses available online through e-learning and will be focusing closely on empowering female professionals. We truly want to support them, firstly because our field attracts more women but also because there still exists a gender salary gap, and we want to close this.
When it comes to health insurance, what do you believe is the current state of the industry?
We see that the insurance industry is quite advanced within the Jordanian medical services sector. The problem, however, is that there are a great many insurance companies.
This means their profitability is low and they are undercutting each other in service delivery. They are always on the lookout for the cheapest deals and this, of course, negatively affects us and may also negatively affect patients when the cheapest deal means lower quality.
If the insurance companies could consolidate and offer more reasonable premiums, they would be more successful, and we would feel more comfortable working with them. The insurance industry does need revision and regulation, but, in general, it is faring quite well. When we started in 1993 only 6% of our clients were insured; now that percentage has increased to 65%.