“Laboratories of all sizes — private, reference, and hospitals — balance two main objectives: high quality testing and results along with achieving business goals and objectives.”
That statement is how I opened an article I authored several years ago in this space (“Outreach strategies for operational success.” MLO. 2013;45(1):30-31.) Is it still accurate? Are labs‘ two main objectives still high quality testing and achieving business goals and objectives? My short answer? No.
Laboratories are — and they have to be to survive — focused on regulatory requirements and restrictions and profitability. It’s a reality of the industry, as told to me many times a year by physicians, clinicians, and laboratory techs.
So, what does this mean? For the lab? For physicians? For the patients?
It means what it always means in any business, in any industry: evolution and retooling. Labs and vendors need to work together to be able to meet the regulatory requirements, and to provide accuracy and efficiency in testing and reporting. And they need to be able to monitor those in an easy, automated, and insightful way, so that both labs and physicians can get back to focusing on testing, diagnosis, and the patient. It also means volume. New customers for the lab. And outstanding customer service and satisfaction so that they keep existing customers.
Three years ago, laboratories needed advantages to compete against other labs. Each lab was competing to gain new customers, to keep (or take) customers. Labs were focused on doing this in ways related to ease of use, customer service, and test menu expansion.
Today, labs are competing with the regulations for survival, not with other labs squeezing business from them.
Outreach for the lab has morphed into two directions: outreach solutions (applications), and community outreach (relationship management). In today’s climate, there are five areas of focus that are key to realizing operational gains from outreach.
1. Seamless integration with other technology tools. By selecting an outreach solution provider that has the ability to effectively partner with and leverage technology platforms to extend the automation and efficiency of IT solutions, labs will have more control over the reimbursement of their tests. Labs will also be in a position to better manage their business expenses.
One such example is through a strategic partnership and integration with a vendor who provides patient validation and verification. This enables the lab, during its regular workflow, to add a simple step that verifies which tests are being ordered, and that the tests being ordered will be paid for. As a physician places an order in the outreach solution, the partner application is launched, and the patient demographics, insurance, and co-payments are verified. Once that has occurred, the test is accessioned directly through outreach into the lab’s LIS. This information is also easily tracked through the case all the way to the billing interface output at the end. If the information is incorrect, the lab has the ability to flag the case prior to accessioning to verify or update the patient insurance or demographic information before any resource or cost expenditure to the lab.
2. Management reporting and analysis of orders and payments. By employing solutions that can be integrated with their outreach and/or LIS solutions (ideally written in conjunction with them by the same vendor), lab leaders are able to support the measurement of commoditized testing — thus giving the lab an operational perspective and the ability to be both proactive and reactive to its volumes.
An example of this would be a dashboard reporting solution that integrates with the outreach solution. The lab would be able to measure, in real time, the volume of business from its customers. It could see which customers provide which percentages of the business, expenses, revenue, and profitability. Lab leaders can immediately see if any customers are starting to order less of certain types of tests or smaller quantities overall — providing the lab with the ability to address any situations or concerns before it loses a customer altogether. At the same time, the lab is able to see which physicians or physician groups order supplies and don’t provide the amount of testing to support the supply requests, thus finding yet another way to contain costs.
3. Providing outreach solutions to customers. This makes it easier for the customer to do business with the lab, and that is always a plus. Laboratory customers are also looking for ways to contain costs, minimize their administrative costs, and find reliable, dependable partners to do business with. Providing automated, easy ways for the physicians to order their tests, track their tests in process, and receive their results when and how they want them will give the lab with an easy-to-use, secure, 24/7 outreach solution an advantage over labs that do not provide one. It’s customer service, plain and simple.
4. Use of technology tools to support flexibility, expansion, and growth. All three of the points above also dovetail with the necessity of tools that are built on a foundation of flexibility and data intelligence. Labs also need to be able to use outreach as a broader function of reimbursement, affording laboratories the ability to branch into broader areas of testing, such as molecular and genetics, that provide better reimbursements.
5. Laboratory partnering. One concept that I have been speaking and writing about for several years is the concept of laboratories partnering for intelligent test routing and performance. One outreach application that is available allows labs to partner with other laboratories, regardless of location, for business efficiencies and cost sharing. (Sometimes labs that are part of a network do this.) The concept is that any lab can take the order and accession the case, but the outreach solution, through intelligent test routing, can send the entire test or partition out the testing to any lab in its network based upon reimbursement parameters.
Lisa-Jean Clifford serves as CEO of Massachusetts-based Psyche Systems Corporation, provider of LabTEN—the Lab Test Exchange Network. She has more than a fifteen years’
experience in the healthcare high-tech field.