Where does the LIS go from here?

Aug. 1, 2011

Ready or not, healthcare reform is driving significant changes in organization, delivery, and finance in the U.S. As laboratory leaders strategize to address these changes, it is clear they need to leverage their most valuable asset: data. The laboratory has been a leader of automation and digitized information within the hospital for more than a decade and, thus, has an opportunity to set the stage for the rest of the healthcare system in improving quality and decreasing costs. With current tools and processes within laboratory information systems (LIS), getting valuable information in the hands of the right people at the right time is challenging. It is crucial for laboratories to be equipped with analytics solutions that work with all their information systems and empower them to use information more effectively to survive and thrive in the ever-changing healthcare environment.

To have a comprehensive view of the business, laboratory organizations need information across financial, operational, and clinical areas. LIS are not integrated with payroll, purchasing, billing, or hospital information systems; therefore, the laboratory has limited insight into true costs, reimbursement, or resource utilization. Business intelligence (BI) solutions which integrate disparate sources of data specifically for laboratory business will be invaluable in providing a 360° view of the operations—as well as the ability to focus on test-level data as needed. This capability provides insight into laboratory operations on:

  • outreach and send-outs;
  • utilization and test-result distributions;
  • regulatory and compliance reporting;
  • workload monitoring (by time, location, instrument, and more);
  • employee productivity/staffing analyses;
  • turnaround time analyses (outliers, specific locations, clients, and more); and
  • test cost/performance analyses.

Laboratories operate in a unique environment, especially with analytics solutions; and acquiring products customized to a laboratory’s specific needs is critical. Identifying a BI solution built specifically for a laboratory’s business enables the organization to immediately leverage pre-built dashboards and key performance indicators proven to matter most to labs.

The BI solution should have proactive capabilities to configure and alert laboratory leadership when defined thresholds and events occur—for instance, knowing when an outreach customer decreases his ordering volume by X%; a critical test value is met or breached; or turnaround time exceeds a predefined threshold. Equally important is for lab professionals to be able to visualize results and easily share information with colleagues, an executive team and/or outreach customers to enable decision making in a collaborative and timely manner supported by data. Laboratory team members should have relevant information delivered to them when they want it and how they want it—in an automated, seamless fashion.

Healthcare leaders require tools that enable them to address daily business needs promptly and effectively to achieve their objectives. BI solutions sometimes require knowledge of structured query language (SQL, a database computer language for managing data in relational database-management systems), or other technical expertise to extract, examine, and share information. The management team has to request reports from IT (Internet technology) or a select group of trained individuals who either have other priorities and/or may not understand all the functional criteria of the management request, so significant delays result in accessing information as well as frequent back-and-forth communication before action is taken.

This burdensome process frequently motivates individuals to avoid requests altogether and to make key decisions based only on anecdotal evidence. Easy-to-use, intuitive BI tools that can be used by every member of the team—technically savvy or not—are critical to enable users of information and drivers of business decisions to take action on the data that matters most to them.

Limited budgets and IT time/resources are commonly key challenges to adapting BI solutions. In light of the challenges faced by healthcare hosted or software-as-a-service, or SaaS, is growing rapidly. SaaS solutions minimize upfront costs incurred in terms of software licenses as well as infrastructure costs required to support the product. SaaS solutions deploy with minimal involvement from an IT department and eliminate demands on IT for product support, hosting, maintenance, upgrades, and training. Given budget and IT constraints in laboratory environments today, SaaS solutions enable organizations to benefit from products that can no longer be put off until the “right time”.

Laboratory data influences 70% to 80% of clinical decisions but accounts for only 3% to 4% of the healthcare dollar. Inevitably, laboratory information will provide critical indicators related to quality improvement and cost containment within the healthcare system. Currently, the LIS efficiently manages laboratory workflow, processes, and information. Laboratories, however, also must have relevant BI tools to unleash the power of data within those information systems to drive a culture of information-based decision making and process excellence throughout the organization.

Tim Kuruvilla, a founder of Viewics, a SaaS business intelligence and analytics solution for healthcare organizations, has spent his entire career helping healthcare organizations evaluate, develop, and implement financial, operational, and clinical strategic initiatives. He believes laboratories will be critical to help providers navigate through upcoming impacts of healthcare reform. He can be reached at 415-439-0351 or tim (at) viewics.com.