The clinical laboratory today is under increasing pressure to perform more efficiently in light of growing healthcare demands. Encumbered by heavier workloads, increased documentation requirements, and expanded training needs, laboratories are looking for solutions to help streamline workflow and inform decisions for more effective care. Integrated delivery networks (IDNs) face the added burden of tracking the performance of individual laboratories while standardizing processes throughout the network at large. This is while responding to the strain caused by hospital consolidations, population health management initiatives, and falling Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) reimbursement rates.
As healthcare has evolved to create these new challenges, the industry has responded. Leading innovators have worked to develop clinical IT solutions that complement the laboratory’s information system (LIS). These middleware and business analytics solutions can be used to assess and enhance capacity and efficiency, improve and monitor turnaround time (TAT), maximize staff resourcing, track specimens to reduce identification errors and improve issue management, and optimize test utilization.
Today’s technology can be used to manage high work volumes amid shrinking resources. The success of the laboratory is contingent on its ability to produce quality, timely results for growing numbers of physicians and patients. In the current healthcare climate, laboratories are tasked with meeting care goals with smaller budgets and fewer workers. Partnerships between laboratory professionals and physicians have become even more important in this environment. Both groups are committed to deliver quality laboratory results, knowing that even a slight disruption in workflow can pose a risk to the patient. Further, it can threaten the financial viability of the laboratory. For this reason, many laboratories look to maximize resources and enhance uptime through some of today’s most advanced offerings: centralized monitoring systems, remote service tools, workflow optimization solutions, and cloud-based options.
Centralized monitoring systems
Managing multiple instruments at once from a centralized system may help a laboratory save time and money. With alert-based, centralized monitoring, one laboratory operator can monitor multiple instruments at the same time for quick assessment of each product’s performance and proactive management of any prospective issue. Remote access to individual instruments allows the user to investigate a patient result or quality control error and manage consumables. A central system also alerts the operator to any potential problems, before the primary user is even aware of them. All of this allows the laboratory to streamline monitoring processes and improve laboratory productivity.
Remote service tools
Because uptime is of such crucial importance, many laboratories are choosing to use solutions that offer proactive diagnosis, troubleshooting, and resolution of potential issues, minimizing disruption to operations. Remote tools with sophisticated algorithms embedded within the laboratory instrumentation continually scan the incoming stream of data for any possible issue that will lead to laboratory downtime. When specific criteria within the instrument are met, the system notifies the service and support staff, prompting further investigation and timely resolution.
Workflow optimization solutions
Middleware tools are helping laboratories optimize workflow by enabling them to standardize best practices and scale solutions. This gives laboratories the flexibility to address their unique requirements to reduce errors, improve efficiency, and decrease TATs. Streamlining workflow and results management contributes substantially to a laboratory’s quality control and compliance efforts, helping to elevate the laboratory’s contribution to the organization’s goals and, ultimately, promoting better patient care.
After installing a middleware system to augment an updated automation system, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital’s (New York) laboratory experienced a boost in both its productivity and position within the organization. With the new system, 71 percent of the laboratory’s basic metabolic panel (BMP) samples met the targeted 30-minute TAT for in-laboratory and analytical testing—up from 29 percent before system implementation.
“Thanks to our latest automation technology and middleware, our lab is bringing enhanced value to the healthcare delivery team by leveraging new enabling technologies that dramatically decrease TAT and provide an accurate, consistent, and predictable process,” says Denise Uettwiller-Geiger, PhD, administrative director of the laboratory.
The advanced quality control features of a middleware system can help laboratories elevate real-time instrument monitoring and remote quality control monitoring as well as enhance learning modes.
The laboratory at Fresno (California) Community Regional Medical Center implemented a system to automate pre-analytical processes. The lab’s goal was to decrease overall TAT and variability, increase standardization in its sample-handling processes, and maintain the quality of results. By applying middleware solutions, Fresno found that the quality and consistency of results improved, strengthening customer relationships.
“The relationship between physicians, the nursing staff, and care providers, in general, has been very good,” says Chris Hopfer, lead clinical lab scientist at Fresno Community Regional Medical Center, with reference to the system addition. “This is not only because of the consistency of the TATs, but also the accuracy and precision of the results.”
Cloud-based informatics is changing laboratory operations. These tools enhance hospitals’ and healthcare systems’ ability to obtain real-time metrics and allow for greater information sharing, increasing insight into patient care and laboratory performance. This helps drive better decision-making and creates rich collaboration, as personnel can gain quick access to the most current data from multiple devices instead of dedicated workstations. Added benefits include fast access to reports, scalability to specific laboratory needs, and integration with healthcare-specific CRM systems.
While laboratories face a number of challenges, today’s advanced systems are helping to create solutions that address those challenges. The right combination of tools offers critical insights to improve efficiency and effectiveness of care for often-burdened laboratories that serve growing physician and patient populations.
Leif Sorensen serves as senior global product manager, clinical information solutions, for Beckman Coulter, Inc.