In today’s healthcare environment, constant change is the new “normal.” The entire allied healthcare team, including laboratorians, must keep pace with the latest developments in technology, regulatory requirements, payer policies and new healthcare delivery models-all driven by the increased focus on quality, value-based care under the Affordable Care Act.
This poses special challenges for laboratory accreditors, which are charged with ensuring that their laboratory clients are meeting all patient needs and regulatory requirements within the modern healthcare system. Seventy percent of diagnostic decisions affecting patients are the result of work done in laboratories, making laboratory medicine critical to quality patient care. However, in the 21st century, improving clinical outcomes must go well beyond mere compliance with regulatory requirements or a successful biennial survey visit. Now, more than ever before, accreditors must partner with labs, helping them to make quality a daily and holistic concern. Anything less could result in negative repercussions in terms of the quality of care received by patients.
Modern accreditors can best serve their clients by providing constant technical updates, ensuring that every laboratory is current on latest industry developments, offering opportunities for labs to learn through interactive webinars or educational tools and by conducting an educational survey that ensures that every patient seen by that laboratory benefits from the knowledge resulting from that survey.
An accreditor should be prepared to provide solutions to their laboratories that address the changing needs and trends of the industry. Increasingly, there has been a shift towards the Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) and Accountable Care Organization (ACO) delivery models, as well as new regulatory requirements, such as the Individualized Quality Control Plan (IQCP). By providing tools to help laboratories integrate these concepts into their practice, an accreditor can become a true partner in ensuring the success of laboratory in the 21st century.
It is also essential that an accreditor values consistency among surveys to ensure that all quality lapses are quickly identified and corrected every time. As survey cycles are biennial, any missed citations at the on-site survey may results in tens of thousands of patients being impacted in the following two years or in fines levied by government regulators against the laboratory for not meeting regulatory requirements. COLA, for example, uses an inter-surveyor reliability approach to ensure that every survey is conducted with the same level of precision and attention to detail, regardless of who is performing the survey.
COLA’s full-time, highly trained surveyors are uniquely qualified to identify citations in all areas of laboratory practice (both affecting patient outcomes and regulatory requirements) and to work with labs to address those citations on the spot, optimizing patient care. This approach has been ingrained in our DNA since we became the first deemed private accreditor under CLIA ’88.
Technology Holds the Key
One constant challenge for accreditors is helping laboratories establish a continuous culture of quality while the majority of their contact is on a biennial basis. It is the responsibility of an accreditor to help the laboratories they serve achieve quality every day through consistent communication and support.
COLA works closely with our technology partner, NextLOGiK to provide innovative, online tools that open lines of communication and foster collaboration between ourselves and our laboratories. By automating audit operations, providing an online portal for collaboration, and offering extensive educational programs, COLA is able to help our clients meet and exceed regulatory requirements and optimize quality practices, 365 days a year.
For example, a NextLOGiK product called CompWALK has allowed COLA to automate the accreditation process, while integrating systems such as customer relations, accounting, client engagement, and audit performance-even automating scheduling on-site surveyor visits, eliminating the need for manual scheduling by COLA. COLA surveyors now use their Windows phones to get directions to their next survey, check their schedules and receive the latest information on the laboratory they are preparing to visit. These solutions are eliminating travel inefficiencies, allowing surveyors more time to focus on conducting a quality survey and educating lab personnel.
Once an onsite survey is completed, another COLA evaluation tool streamlines the data collection and reporting process. Previously, it would take hours, and in some cases days or weeks, to process survey data for an accreditation review. Now, as surveyors enter the results of the audit into the evaluation tool, the data is relayed to COLA in real-time and immediately compiled into a report. By eliminating reporting lag time, COLA can remediate any concerns much faster, ensuring the delivery of a higher quality of care overall.
In the fast-paced world of healthcare it is critical to have a client portal that enables laboratories to easily communicate and share information with their accreditor in real-time. Through this portal, labs should be able to conduct self-assessments, share results, and reference previous reports to prepare for upcoming audits. This portal should provide a central location for documents, including past reports, personnel information, and compliance-related documentation required for accreditation. COLA’s own, COLAcentral fosters ongoing collaboration between COLA and the labs we accredit, ensuring that patient results are never disrupted due to delayed communications.
In the 21st century, accreditation should not be about reprimanding laboratories for poor performance, but rather about creating a partnership that provides the tools for success in achieving improved clinical outcomes. It is incumbent on accreditors to provide the educational and technology solutions that labs need to be successful in delivery quality care. At the same time, it is vital that laboratories take advantage of all available resources so they can avoid citations and ensure quality. Only by working together as a team, can accreditors and their laboratory clients meet the high standards doctors expect and that patients deserve.