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AACC, A-u Revoir, CC you later

What's in name? AACC believes it can do better with a new one.

AACC, A-u Revoir, CC you later

A laboratory association changes its name and thereby hopes to change its fortune

aacc adlm

March 2023
James O. Westgard, PhD
Sten Westgard, MS

A 2-year process concluded recently with the announcement that the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) will be changing its name to the Association for Diagnostics & Laboratory Medicine (ADLM). Or, as they put it, a "brand positioning initiative."

Notice two key parts of the original name are being eliminated: Clinical Chemistry, and American.

The professed reason for the change is to make the name “reflect a more inclusive, collaborative, and influential future for the field.”
Clinical Chemistry recalls the central role that chemistry testing had at the dawn of the age of laboratory testing. There were few other tests the delivered clinical information in existence, so it was obvious that Clinical Chemistry was in the title of the organization. Today, of course, the laboratory testing menu is several orders of magnitude larger, and the role of chemistry testing, while still important, is rapidly becoming less central. By volume of things that can be measured, chemistry is easily dwarfed by the molecular testing field. Thus, ADLM is a more representative, more accurate representation of today’s laboratory.

The “American” part of this is a bit less obvious. But one only needs to glance at the events being held across the world, AACC Middle East, AACC India, etc. The ambition of the organization is no longer confined to the shores of the USA. It’s aim is now global, it seeks to compete against the giant organizations and meetings like IFCC, EFLM, Arab MedLab, Euro MedLab, etc. Part of this reflects the reality of the growth of healthcare in other regions of the world. The AACC meeting was once considered the largest and most important laboratory exposition in the world, but more recently other meetings have eclipsed it in size and possibly vendor revenue, and thus, importance. Combined with the heightened difficulty of traveling to the US since 9/11, increasingly, laboratory professionals from other countries no longer attend the AACC meeting. They go to other meetings, or they wait for a meeting close to their home that will include many of the same vendors.

AACC/ADLM is not unusual among laboratory organizations that have struggled with their names:  In a move that bothered no one in 2005, NCCLS changed its name to CLSI. Yet there are stalwarts, such as COLA, who have kept their name even as they change their constituency. In COLA's case, that means having to suffer the parenthetical "Formerly the Commission on Office Laboratory Accreditation", making them like the Prince of laboratory organizations. The Joint Commission was formerly known as the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO, or "jay-coh"), an appropriate simplification of a mouthful,  so long as you don't mind sounding like a canabis advocacy group.  The IFCC is technically the International association of clinical chemistry and laboratory medicine, straddling the paradox of using a well-known if inaccurate brand (IFCC) while modifying the name to adapt to the marketplace (IFCCLM). All of these organizations are facing the threat of shrinking memberships amid consolidation of laboratories - there are fewer professional laboratorians of a certain level. Particularly in the USA and Europe, the numbers are dwindling. Either the organization resigns itself to shrinking, or they must find new ways to expand.

Ultimately, this is about building The Brand. At a certain point, organizations grow to the size where they bring in the MBAs, the marketers and the public relations experts. The value of any specific strength of the business matters less than the overall impression of The Brand. Technological advantages come and go, the appeal of individuals come and go, but The Brand lives on. So the solution isn't to become a better organization, but to have a Better Brand. Getting “ADLM” to roll off the tongue like “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” is the goal.

For some AACC members, this name change feels like disrespect, a relegation of a profession once core to the field to a smaller, diminished place. One of us is an elder figure who saw the organization’s birth, and went to their meetings for half a century, and feels that pain more keenly than the other. Both of us agree that the nostalgia for the name, and the wistfulness for its passing, is understandable. Once the AACC was principally known for the strength of its science, not its brand. The other of us, who has witnessed commercial goals increasingly overshadow the scientific mission of the organization, feels no surprise to see another pivot toward greater revenues.

All things evolve, change, and adapt. For those who strongly oppose the name change, there is an opportunity to vote against it. But to waht end? We won't be opposing this.  We see no value in clinging to an old name, simply out of yearning for “good old days.” An organization by any other name is still an organization. AACC had a good run. Long live the ADLM.