Health information exchange

Nov. 18, 2012

The business goal for successful hospital laboratories has become increasingly clear: to enhance patient care collaboration while maintaining revenue in-house rather than losing it to commercial laboratories. An estimated 70 percent of all hospitals in the United States run some form of a laboratory program, and a rising number of these hospitals are actively seeking to grow their business and serve the entire spectrum of laboratory testing needs. With these growing objectives comes mounting pressure to succeed for hospital laboratory managers. Fortunately, health information exchange (HIE) systems can help them successfully meet many of the challenges they face as they strive to expand their laboratory outreach programs. In fact, improved access to HIE capabilities, technology that only a small percentage of hospitals are now taking full advantage of, can help lab decision makers to achieve enhanced patient care and enhanced revenue.

1. Testing quality and timeliness

The overall quality of the testing services provided by hospital laboratories is a vital component of their continued success. The information they produce and share must be both timely and accurate if they want to operate an effective business and provide quality patient care. Without electronic ordering and resulting, physicians have historically lost valuable time re-keying or scanning in data. Eliminating the manual element by implementing an HIE system also addresses the issue of inevitable human error. It offers an immediate reduction of errors and thus improves labs’ order accuracy and the overall quality of services.

2. Improving cost-effectiveness

Hospital clinical laboratory managers are also increasingly being tasked with reducing laboratory costs and improving efficiency. Delivering paper laboratory results not only costs 10 to 20 times more on average than sharing an electronic order, but submitting orders with paper-based systems allows for many more missed orders. That not only holds potential risks for patient safety but is a lost business opportunity for hospitals.

3. Improving workflow

Faced with tightened budgets and, often, with a dwindling number of licensed medical laboratory scientists, hospital laboratories must find ways to improve efficiency with fewer staff. HIE systems help reduce the need for laboratory customer service and administrative positions by eliminating the need for phone staff and data entry. When orders can be viewed and placed electronically, patients and providers no longer need to call laboratories to receive results or place orders. Additionally, electronic ordering and resulting allows for automated specimen data entry, freeing laboratory staff from the burden of manually entering details from a piece of paper.

4. Complying with emerging payment models

Emerging requirements that are associated with Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) have added to the challenges faced by many hospital laboratory managers. In an effort to reduce their workload, some are turning to outside commercial laboratories. But they do not have to turn business away if they have the right technologies in place.

The fact that ACOs are fundamentally about encouraging preventive care is often overlooked. For laboratories, this means reducing duplicative testing and improving access to population data. Without an HIE system, laboratories do not have the ability to determine whether or not a test has been performed. With HIE in place, laboratories can easily pull up patient profiles, reduce unnecessary testing, and achieve compliance with new payment model requirements. HIE systems also make population data easier to aggregate and analyze, allowing laboratories and the communities they serve to ensure they are meeting any new rules or regulations that may emerge.

5. Serving the entire community

In order to prosper, a hospital laboratory needs to serve its entire community in a way that positions it as a leader. In order to strengthen the community of doctors associated with its hospital or health system, a laboratory has to be able to easily share comprehensive patient information among all providers.

This is where hospital laboratories have a clear advantage over commercial laboratories, so it is an opportunity that must not be missed. When hospital laboratories implement an HIE system, they are able to share a patient’s entire suite of health data, rather than only lab work details. Putting all of this data together greatly improves the continuity of care. A hospital laboratory that can provide full background information on patients electronically will be a clear winner for doctors deciding where to send their laboratory orders.

The HIE advantage

Hospital laboratory managers must find a way to effectively maintain quality patient care while simultaneously meeting business objectives, and HIE systems provide them with the tools they need to do so. Running a laboratory has its challenges, but there are also incredible opportunities—for improving revenues and patient safety. Hospital laboratory managers should focus on implementing the best technologies that will enable them to succeed. The right HIE system empowers hospital laboratories to be fully compliant, effective, and prosperous across the continuum of care.

David Caldwell is Executive Vice President for San Jose, California-based Certify Data System, provider of the HealthLogix™ HIE Platform. Previously, he held executive sales and marketing roles with Quest Diagnostics, Baxter Healthcare, and ThermoFisher Scientific.