2024 Lab of the Year Runner Up: Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories

March 25, 2024

Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories (WDL) is one of the recipients of MLO’s 2024 Lab of the Year Runner Up Awards! WDL is located in the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center but operates independently while being owned by Milwaukee-based organization, Froedtert Health. They are the main laboratory for this 735-bed teaching hospital and the only Level-1 adult trauma center in Southeastern Wisconsin. They perform over 6.5 million tests each year.

Customer Service

WDL uses the My MOMENT and AIDET customer service guidelines. Each department is accountable for their customer service, but the WDL Client Services department handles over 100,000 customer calls a year and provides 24/7/365 support to Froedtert Health. Client Services launched the “Epic Cheers Customer Relations Management (CRM) system.” This system optimizes workflow by documenting customer calls and concerns in a more formalized, standardized, and centrally captured way. It was designed by WDL staff and will help improve customer experience by identifying issues.

Other notable customer service achievements from different departments at WDL included:

·        In the past year, over 240,000 specimens were collected by the Phlebotomy and Long-Term Care Services Department.

·        Making sure multiple locations have adequate staff.

·        Resolving conflict the first time.

Another example of WDL’s customer service is their Anatomic Pathology department introducing oncology panels. Now, patients with advanced disease have the chance to get novel molecularly targeted treatments.

One of WDL’s valued customers, Froedtert’s Cancer Center and Transplant Services, said, “Without our partnership with WDL we would be unable to provide our essential services to the community.”

Productivity and Teamwork

The WDL team achieved ISO 15189 Accreditation through the College of American Pathologists in June 2023. WDL says one of the keys to their success in productivity is, “That every department has a Leadership Team with the authority and support to manage their own resources and the flexibility of decentralized decision-making. This structure has led to consistent and numerous operational achievements, which are then presented by each Department Leader at the annual Operational Excellence meeting.”

The Anatomic Pathology department expanded its IHC menu by 35 new strains. They also grew the number of stains within Histology cases by 40%. This led to a turnaround time decrease of 25 hours! Their Blood Bank also reduced turnaround time by bringing in Grifols antisera. The Chemistry and Toxicology Departments also got a technology upgrade. They replaced the Roche Cobas 6000 modular system with the Roche Cobas Pro. This reduced instrument maintenance.

When faced with supply shortages, an Inventory Specialist was hired for Microbiology and Molecular Diagnostics. The Cytogenetics department reduced staff shortages and burnout by modifying workflows. Impressively, the Billing Team recovered over $430,000 in lost revenue.

Other 2023 team accomplishments:

·        Internal audit program administered to track risks and prevent failures.

·        MediaLab was launched to monitor nonconforming events.

·        Across all laboratory services, key performance metrics were reviewed and standardized.

·        Through the launch of new policies and procedures, noncompliant documents in the lab were significantly reduced, including those in PolicySTAT.

·        Flow Cytometry went from 8-color to 12- color antibody panels reducing reagent costs, the amount of sample needed, and processing time.

·        Long Term Care and Phlebotomy Services simplified the management of their vehicle fleet with eMV. The new electronic system gives WDL a direct connection to the DMV for automated notifications regarding vehicle registration renewal. WEX fuel cards were allotted to each vehicle’s VIN so team members could use different vehicles.

·        The Chemistry Team and the Beaker team worked together to introduce 158 IT improvements, including auto-verification for blood gases and a new generation of AST and ALT that prevents falsely low enzyme activity in patients with Vitamin B deficiency.

·        The WDL 6 Reference Testing Team and the MCW Department of Pathology Medical Section Directors conduct a yearly review of all reference testing, resulting in patients saving more than $90,000.

Education and Training

WDL endorses the education of their employees and community, raising awareness of jobs in the laboratory. Last academic year, they partnered with Cristo Rey High School to provide internship opportunities for their students. Five students participated in the internship program last year and got to work in specimen processing. WDL visits local high schools to help teach students about the laboratory profession. One of WDL’s laboratory members, Clinical Laboratory Utilization Specialist, Kathryn Golab, MLS(ASCP)CMSH(ASCP)CM, is also a board member at large at the Healthcare Career Academy with Menomonee Falls High School. WDL said, “This allows laboratory input into the curriculum for high school students who plan to go into a healthcare related field after high school. Upon her integration into the board, several graduating senior students have declared an MLS/MLT major going into college.”

For students completing their MLS/MLT degrees, WDL provided clinical site opportunities for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marquette University, and the Milwaukee Area Technical College. In fall of 2023, WDL offered ten clinical spots to students, following thirteen in fall of 2022.

To combat staffing shortages, WDL Executive Director, Mike Baron, created a virtual WDL Laboratory Collaborative. The collaborative connects laboratories, so they can share their strategies for staff recruitment. Baron also initiated another way for individuals to complete certification. Specifically, the Anatomic Pathology Department incorporated an apprenticeship opportunity where Laboratory Technical Assistants (LTA) work to obtain eligibility for histology certifications. In 2023, three staff members achieved certification and more will be eligible to take the exam in 2024.

Strategic Outlook

Department managers at WDL develop “operational excellence plans” for their teams. Some of the goals include improving customer service, employee wellness, teamwork, quality, and supporting technical advancement. They plan to expand on programs already implemented, like their Education Collaborative, their non-conforming event process, and Atalan- an Access-to-Access Lab Network.

Matthew Long, Third Shift Laboratory Operations Manager, Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories said, “While labs across the nation are struggling to keep their doors open, WDL Team Members have found a way to normalize excellence…to make the extraordinary feel ordinary.”