The future state of informatics and the clinical lab

April 24, 2017

Laboratory professionals at all levels face a growing number of pressures, as the healthcare landscape continues to evolve. The shift from fee- to value-based services, for example, leaves decision-makers asking how best to support the increasing need for care that is proactive, patient-oriented and outcome-focused. Laboratory consolidations place added burden on managers to track consistency and maintain operations for individual laboratories and networks, at large. These, along with the drive to produce more timely results with fewer resources in highly cost-conscious environments, push personnel to search for solutions that may help them to:

  • Improve laboratory efficiencies
  • Provide insights into operations across networks
  • Produce a more robust understanding of business performance.

Propelled by the desire to address these mounting challenges, clinical laboratory professionals are turning their attention to information management. This, in turn, is spurring in vitro diagnostic (IVD) product providers to create a new wave of integrated systems, designed to harness the power of information into usable solutions that meet the most pressing needs of today’s laboratories.

Finding laboratory solutions

Healthcare’s age of enlightenment brought an increased demand for a more comprehensive picture of both the patient and laboratory operations. Today’s shift from an age of enlightenment to an age of healthcare value has produced the desire not for more data, but for rich data—information that is not just plentiful, but usable and effective. This has paved the way for innovators to find practical means by which to help healthcare professionals handle big data. Laboratory personnel need access to information, and they need a streamlined process for sifting through massive amounts of data to gain the important insights that will drive decisions and improve efficiencies within their laboratories, hospitals, and networks.

Many are finding their solutions in new information management systems that use advanced cloud-based innovation and remote-access capabilities to connect laboratory professionals to the right data at the right time. These new clinical information management tools are intended not only to make information more actionable and empower more confident decision-making for the laboratory professional, clinician, and patient, but also to yield laboratory efficiencies, improve customer service, and promote better patient care.

Streamlining inventory management

One highly time-consuming function of any laboratory is inventory management. Inefficiencies in controlling inventory can cause disruptions to operations, jeopardizing the laboratory’s ability to produce results in a timely manner and causing unplanned costs. This is exacerbated when multiple sites within a network are affected. Advanced cloud-based systems can streamline inventory management functions and automate routine tasks to help laboratories save money, maintain tight turnaround times, track trends, and devote more time to patient care, instead of administrative duties.

Managing inventory is vitally important in the laboratory; not having the right inventory items on hand could slow a laboratory’s ability to perform a specific test when a physician and patient need it. Automatic reorder prompts enable laboratory professionals to make sure they have what they need and help reduce staff workload, so workers can focus on the most important entity—the patient.

Beyond individual laboratory operations, these inventory management systems give managers greater visibility into supply usage throughout a network, offering them added insight into testing, supply usage, and costs throughout the network.

Centralizing instrumentation monitoring

Busy laboratories often require operators or managers to monitor several instruments at the same time. This is particularly true during night shift and other times when staffing may be at a minimum. Offering laboratory workers the ability to monitor multiple networked instruments remotely in real time from a single workstation may provide a more robust view of laboratory activities, facilitate fast decision-making, and save time. Laboratory staff members gain a big-picture perspective of what is happening throughout the lab, using a single view. This remote-access capability is intended to help laboratories increase productivity and better manage personnel shortages.

Proactive system service

Potential system issues threaten laboratory performance and can result in downtime. Finding possible disruptions before they become threats is key to keeping laboratory operations running smoothly and consistently. This is driving providers to offer a proactive service approach through both remote and onsite troubleshooting. The ability to access analyzers remotely enables support staff to gain insight into system performance to proactively manage any potential operational interference, which is believed to improve uptime.

Providing insights into operations across the network

Managing network operations across multiple sites can be challenging due to non-standardized reporting methods, overwhelming amounts of data, and a lack of access to needed information. It is not enough to have access to information anymore. Today, information has to be easy to access, easy to understand, and easy to use.

New cloud-based information management systems have the ability to connect instruments throughout an entire network to provide access to actionable cloud-based analytics, including a blend of instrument data and service information. Actionable data is coalesced into a central repository. This provides a detailed view of patient, quality control, and calibration information by site. The information also helps managers understand instrument workload balance and daily test volumes, and, because it is all cloud-based, there is no need for additional hardware and a reduced need for IT support.

Implementing solutions to streamline workflow is an ongoing focus of clinical laboratory professionals. A next-generation middleware system provides a single solution for accessing and managing laboratory information system (LIS) data. Workflow is optimized through cloud-based technology. This technology minimizes the hardware footprint, and multi-site, multi-time-zone technology helps reduce training and rework for staff members. Advancements also include roles-based access to ensure the security of protected health information, simplified rule building, and increased throughput of resulted tests through auto-verification.

A better understanding of business performance

Healthcare changes are putting extra pressure on laboratories, hospitals, and networks. To maintain quality and efficiency in the clinical laboratory, personnel at all levels must be able to track performance. Solutions that ease access to targeted information enable closer monitoring of key performance indicators.

Today’s clinical information management tools enable healthcare personnel to make informed decisions about operations through the use of rich data. The ability to access and analyze this vital information on-demand is an important part of quality control and continuous improvement efforts. These tools allow professionals to target specific areas of interest more closely, helping to ensure laboratories are performing efficiently and effectively. Ultimately, optimal laboratory performance leads to enhanced customer service and improved patient care.

Wido Menhardt, PhD, serves as Vice President, R&D Clinical Informatics, for Beckman Coulter, Inc.

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