Directing a winning lab

March 25, 2024

Avera McKennan’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine was MLO’s 2023 Lab of the Year. One thing that set your lab apart was your use of data analytics to improve laboratory operations. Could you share a recent example(s) of how your lab is utilizing data to improve?

Avera McKennan Laboratory is harnessing the power of data analytics to drive continuous improvement and enhance key metrics within the lab, such as reducing blood culture contamination rates and optimizing other laboratory initiatives. By collecting and analyzing data on blood culture contamination incidents, the laboratory can identify patterns, root causes, and trends that contribute to contamination events. This data-driven approach enables Avera McKennan Laboratory to implement targeted interventions, such as staff training, process improvements, and workflow modifications, to reduce contamination rates and improve the accuracy of blood culture results. Through real-time monitoring and analysis of data, the laboratory can proactively identify areas for improvement, track progress over time, and drive sustainable quality enhancements in blood culture testing processes.

Furthermore, Avera McKennan Laboratory is leveraging data analytics to optimize various laboratory initiatives and performance metrics, such as turnaround times, test accuracy, and resource utilization. By collecting and analyzing data on testing processes, equipment performance and staff productivity, the laboratory can identify opportunities for efficiency gains, workflow enhancements and cost savings. This data-driven approach empowers Avera McKennan Laboratory to make informed decisions, set performance targets, and monitor key metrics to drive operational excellence and deliver high-quality patient care. Through a culture of continuous improvement and data-driven decision-making, the laboratory can achieve greater efficiency, accuracy, and patient satisfaction while maintaining compliance with regulatory standards and best practices in laboratory medicine.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced this year or anticipate facing in your health system? What do solutions to those look like?

One of the biggest challenges that Avera McKennan Laboratory has faced this year and may anticipate facing in the future is the increasing complexity and volume of diagnostic tests being performed. With advancements in medical technology and the growing demand for specialized testing, laboratories are tasked with ensuring accurate and timely results while managing a diverse range of tests. Solutions to these challenges involve investing in automation to streamline testing processes, implementing quality control measures to maintain accuracy, and fostering a culture of continuous learning and development among staff. Additionally, collaboration with health care providers and stakeholders to prioritize critical testing needs and optimize test utilization can help address these challenges effectively.

Additionally, maintaining compliance with regulatory requirements and quality standards while managing operational costs present  continuous challenges. For example, the FDA ruling on Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs) could have a significant impact on laboratories if passed so we are watching this closely and being anticipatory to changes we may need to make in our processes.

What are some of your goals for the Avera McKennan Laboratory this year?

In line with the health care system's commitment to innovation, Avera McKennan Laboratory also seeks to enhance its testing capabilities by adopting cutting-edge technologies and expanding its test menu to meet the growing demand for specialized tests. By staying abreast of technological advancements and industry best practices, the laboratory aims to offer a comprehensive range of diagnostic services to support clinical decision-making and patient care.

Avera McKennan Laboratory is also navigating the growing needs of the rapid population growth of Sioux Falls, S.D., while also serving as a reference lab for our rural regions. Our goal is to ensure that the laboratory can scale its operations effectively to meet the growing demand, while maintaining high standards of quality and efficiency. Our goals involve strategic planning for infrastructure, workforce optimization, and technology integration to enhance the laboratory's capacity and ability to serve a larger patient population effectively. Furthermore, we aim to collaborate with educational institutions, professional organizations, and industry partners to cultivate a pipeline of future MLS professionals and address the long-term sustainability of the laboratory workforce.

What measures does your laboratory take to prevent staff burnout?

Avera prioritizes the well-being of its staff and implements strategies to prevent burnout among its employees. One approach is to foster a supportive and collaborative work environment that encourages open communication, teamwork, and mutual respect. The laboratory has developed a Culture Committee that has staff representation from various departments and shifts. The committee is completely run by the staff who work hard to put on events and activities throughout each month. They do an incredible job at fostering a fun, educational, and collaborative environment. The team hosts events that range from continuing education and community volunteer opportunities, to themed potlucks and games. Occasionally, they will plan competitions with traveling trophies that add a lot of fun and camaraderie throughout the lab. Additionally, Avera offers wellness programs, mental health resources, and professional development opportunities to help employees manage stress, maintain work-life balance, and enhance their overall well-being.

What is the most exciting new technology currently being used in your laboratory?

One of the exciting new technologies being utilized in Avera McKennan Laboratory is the Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS) system in our special chemistry department. The LC-MS system offers unparalleled sensitivity and specificity in detecting and quantifying a wide range of compounds in biological samples. This advanced technology allows for precise analysis of complex molecules, such as drugs, metabolites, and proteins, with high accuracy and efficiency. By leveraging the capabilities of LC-MS, Avera McKennan Laboratory can enhance its diagnostic capabilities, improve patient care outcomes and support clinicians in making informed treatment decisions based on detailed molecular information.