Podcast: Reinventing the service model with Saturn Pathology

Medical Forum’s journalist, Eric Martin, sits down for a discussion about the impact of values and life experience on the creation of a new model for the delivery of pathology services with Dr Jonathan Grasko, the managing director of Saturn Pathology.

Dr Grasko grew up in South Africa and he shares how living in a developing nation highlighted the plight of disadvantaged groups, a perspective he took with him to the UK for his professional training, and one that influenced his vision for a new pathology service in Australia.

“When we set up Saturn Pathology, there several important aspects we thought were essential to supply the service. We really wanted a laboratory that wasn’t niche and wasn’t aimed at a certain group but was open to the whole community and easy to access,” Dr Grasko explained.

“The idea behind that was a lot of medicine, even if it might be free, is still difficult to access.

“Our concept of supplying pathology is decentralisation. Medicine over several centuries has really moved down a path of centralising, mostly driven by cost and technology. It’s easier to have something that’s expensive in one spot and let everyone come to it as opposed to having multiples of the same thing.

“However, with modern advances, there’s been a reduction in size and an increase in portability for much of the equipment, as well as a reduction in price. And so, what we’ve done is moved down a decentralised path, allowing us to go to the patient rather than them coming to us.”

Dr Grasko explained that a pathology service is comprised of three factors: the patient experience, the investigation, and engagement.

“Most people don’t see pathology as a lab. They don’t see it as specimens. They see the phlebotomist, the collector who’s there in front of them, giving them that experience, taking the blood,” he said.

“That does not have to be a negative experience, even though no one really wants to have a blood test.

“It’s really associated with some form of ill health, for whatever reason, we’ve got a health question that can’t be answered clinically. The investigation process could be a blood test or radiology and imaging, and that helps your doctor to treat you in a way that will hopefully improve your outcome.

“But I think the number one aspect is engagement, and that’s really the starting point for us. We engage with the child. We explain to the child. It’s not something that’s done to them. It’s done with them. And that brings them on the journey, and it really improves the whole experience.”

As such, in addition to their fleet of collection vehicles, Saturn Pathology has only one collection centre, located in Stirling, but that centre has been designed to help facilitate blood tests for neurodivergent children.

“It really comes down to anxiety. It’s uncontrolled anxiety that drives a lot of the behaviour,” Dr Grasko said.

“So, we asked ourselves, how do we improve that? So, we instituted several different procedures, to allow them to self-regulate and that has shown major promise.

“The flip side is that we have instituted this with all our children, and we’ve had increasing success rate with all children.”

Dr Grasko explained that even though the process was designed for neurodivergent children, Saturn Pathology have used it for several different groups with quite significant improvements in outcomes – including adults.

“As an adult, if you go into a medical procedure and the doctor’s doing something without explaining it to you, you feel disenfranchised and disengaged with the whole process because you really don’t understand what’s going on and you’re more likely to have a negative experience,” he said.

“Where if someone explains it to you, you will understand it and you’ll see the value in that process.”