During the 2015 Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, Advance brought together a panel of experts for a webinar, The Lab’s Critical Role in Healthcare, to discuss the state of the clinical laboratory in today’s healthcare environment, how the laboratory can and should be increasingly active in the delivery of quality patient care and strategies to advance the clinical laboratory profession. Participating in the webinar was Glen McDaniel, veteran laboratorian and Advance blogger; Thomas O. Tiffany, CEO and founder of Adept Clinical Consultants LLC (AC2T); and Douglas Beigel, CEO of COLA.

Glen McDaniel, MS, MBA, MT, MLS

Glen McDaniel took us through a rich overview of the development of Laboratory Science.  Some early examinations of bodily fluids as early as 300 B.C. show that laboratory science is among one of the earliest professions of the world. Time has only increased the need and importance of laboratory medicine in managing and detecting diseases.  While volume of testing continues to increase, it is critical to ensure that value is being provided by each test performed and the costs are being contained. He also touched on the ever changing world of laboratory technology. While so many tests are now offered through kits help to reduce turnaround time, we need to ensure these are tests are being performed with quality by trained professionals.

In summary, Glen shared that the laboratory will be just as much, if not more, critical to the healthcare system in the future. But as an industry, we need to be willing to get out of the lab, take on unconventional roles, become experts in technology advances, and be present when healthcare decisions are made in order to craft that future.

Thomas O. Tiffany, PhD

Dr. Tiffany shared the importance of hospital ancillaries in the era of Accountable Care Organizations. The goal of ACOs  are to provide better population health and better healthcare, higher quality care, lower costs of care.  While providing value through information, leading to 70% of all diagnostic decisions, the lab is considered ancillary to ACOs.

ACOs, Patient-Centered Medical Homes (PCMH), and the Affordable Care Act are drastically changing the healthcare landscape and pose many opportunities and threats to the lab including, reduction in reimbursements,  complex emerging advanced technologies, and interoperability problems with emerging EHR systems.

Dr. Thomas goes on to explain that the lab has a critical role in helping to improve inpatient care and efficiency, reducing unnecessary testing and referrals, and improving prevention and early diagnosis. In essence, improving health outcomes and lowering total healthcare costs. In order to do so, pathologists and laboratory professionals must be at the ACO/PCMH table and part of the leadership team. They need to be more willing to take on a diagnostic management role, in helping the doctors order the right test at the right time, and then help to understand the complex test results.

Douglas A. Beigel

Douglas Beigel also explored the ever increasing complexity of our modern healthcare system. The complexity of this new system, including the influx of 16 million new patients into the system, paired with the aging workforce quickly reaching retirement, is creating a tremendous need for laboratory professionals. Unfortunately, many of the medical technology programs around the country are closing their doors from lack of interest. The lack of interest likely stems from many inherent issues within the industry, including the lack of knowledge and understanding of the career from a student’s perspective but also within the overall, general public.

As an industry we need to work together to reverse this trend. We need to bridge the gap between other allied health professionals and the lab to increase interdisciplinary support and recognition for the laboratory.  Beigel states “A renewed and strengthened focus on laboratory education holds the key to solving the workforce shortage dilemma.” Laboratorians need to take a more educational role both in their professional organizations, and also out to the community. Without creating awareness the laboratory will continue to be seen as a commodity—and not as a quality science that must be done properly to enhances patient care.

Conclusion

A few themes resonated throughout the webinar. Quality. Efficiency. Collaboration. Education. Change. Active Involvement. Within these themes, there were a few key take-always. As an industry, we must continue to improve efficiencies to reduce costs. Making sure the right test is performed at the right time for the right patients is essential to the new healthcare delivery model. While doing so, it is critical reduce unnecessary testing through collaboration with our healthcare teams.

While the laboratory will continue to have a critical role in healthcare in the future—it will be incumbent upon the laboratory professionals to fully define and re-define that role as the needs of the industry change.  Just as ACOs, PCMH, the ACA, retail medicine, technology are altering the landscapes of modern healthcare today; new layers of complexity will be added tomorrow.

Laboratorians can step out of their traditional laboratory setting and leverage these changes as opportunities to expand their role. We can do so by working directly with physicians to help them improve efficiencies in ordering tests; share our knowledge in interpreting results; train allied health professionals in quality laboratory practices; educate the public on the role we play in healthcare; we can promote the career to young inquiring minds.

We can even start today.

 

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