Medical laboratories gain competitive advantage by using GPS and real-time vehicle tracking to improve performance of their couriers
Like everything else in laboratory medicine, even such once-simple operational areas as logistics and courier services are becoming complicated—and more expensive. The reasons are familiar to all clinical laboratory managers and pathologists.
For example, sophisticated new diagnostic technologies require that specimens be transported with greater care to ensure that they arrive at the medical laboratory with full integrity.
Tougher patient privacy laws make it essential that couriers understand how to protect the confidential information that is often printed on the clinical laboratory test requisition forms that are placed in the plastic bags with the lab samples.
Clinical Laboratory Courier Services Are More Complex Today
Simply said, today’s clinical lab courier and logistics service is more complex to manage. Then there is the issue of cost. As hospital laboratory outreach programs expand, it becomes necessary to enlarge the courier system to pick up more specimens from more locations. Yet that increases the cost of logistics, even as most hospital laboratories must cope with shrinking budgets mandated by their parent institutions.
Because so many independent laboratories and hospital lab outreach programs are growing at a steady pace, expansion of their courier networks becomes a strategic necessity. That means—compared to earlier years—more clinical labs and pathology groups are considering three options for beefing up their courier and logistics networks. They are:
- Maintaining a 100% laboratory-owned courier and logistics service, using the lab’s employees, company cars, and other assets.
- Opting for a 100% outsourcing solution by contracting with an independent courier/logistics service company. It is the courier company who employs the couriers and manages the performance of the logistics network for the laboratory customer.
- Using a mix of internal and external couriers. For the larger proportion of existing lab customers, lab employees may perform courier services. However, these services are supplemented by contracts with an outside courier/logistics vendor to pick up and transport specimens on selected routes, particularly as clients are added in new regions.
“The courier and logistics needs of medical laboratories are very precise,” stated Susan Uihlein who is National Director of Business Development for Medifleet Inc. “No less than perfection in execution of the daily courier activities is acceptable, since every specimen represents a patient. The medical care of a patient can be negatively affected if his or her specimen was to be lost or its integrity compromised during pick up and transport to the lab.”
Avoiding Breakdowns and Service Problems with Medical Lab Couriers
In fact, breakdowns in courier service—including lost or compromised specimens—are a major source of physician dissatisfaction with the laboratory provider. It is one of the leading reasons why a client physician will switch from his/her existing medical laboratory provider to a competing laboratory.
Thus, the performance of a clinical laboratory’s courier network is a critical success factor in the lab’s ability to win new clients and to cement their loyalty to the laboratory. But it is becoming tougher to meet these performance standards. It is ever-more difficult for local and regional laboratories to create, manage, and sustain a cost-effective, high-performance courier/logistics service.
“Like everything else in healthcare, the performance bar in courier services is moving higher,” noted Humphrey. “There are new technologies that help courier managers plan the most efficient routes. These same technologies make it possible to intervene in real time to efficiently re-route couriers in response to weather events or the need for stat pick-ups.
“Similarly, hand-held devices can be used by laboratory couriers to identify what to do at each stop at the client’s office. These mobile devices also capture real time records of the specimens collected during the stop,” he continued. “Wireless capabilities allow this information from the field to be transmitted directly to the clinical laboratory.
“In turn, that allows accessioning managers to plan for the expected volume of work on its way into the lab,” added Humphrey. “It also means that customer service reps can field calls from client physicians and handle issues involving the specimens that were picked up earlier and are still on a courier care and being transported to the clinical laboratory.”
Humphrey’s points emphasize one major trend in the courier/logistics field. New information technology (IT) solutions make it possible to manage the courier network with greater precision, increased accuracy, and reduced costs. That is the good news.
The bad news is that medical laboratories and pathology groups need to invest capital to acquire and deploy these IT solutions. They also must hire and pay for courier managers who have the experience and skills to implement these innovative tools.
But the tight budgets at independent labs and hospital outreach programs often mean that there is no capital for upgrades to the in-house courier and logistics department. One solution is to outsource courier services to a company that specializes in logistics.
That is why, across the nation, a growing number of clinical laboratories and pathology groups are entering into arrangements to have third-party companies handle some or all of their courier and logistics requirements. Outsourcing of courier services is a trend that is building momentum.
Dermatopathology Laboratory Gets Better Courier Service at Less Cost
One example is the Dermatopathology Lab at the Laboratory Medicine Department at the Yale University School of Medicine. Patty Tinker, who is the Clinical Practice Manager there, stated, “We at Yale Dermatopathology had outsourced our courier service for many years and seemed to have nothing but problems. However, we moved our business to another courier company that uses the latest logistics software and mobile devices.
“The good outcome to this story is that we were promised annual savings of 20%,” explained Tinker. “The actual yearly savings were 35%! Better yet, our customer service increased in ways that were immediately noticed by our client physicians.”
The Dark Report and Dark Daily have just published a free White Paper that focuses on the changing needs of the clinical laboratory’s courier and logistics network. It is titled “The Future of Clinical Laboratory Courier Services: Technical and Economic Solutions for the Medical Courier Business.” It can be downloaded immediately at this link (or copy and paste this URL into your web browser: http://darkdaily.com/white-papers/the-future-of-clinical-laboratory-courier-services-technical-and-economic-solutions-for-the-medical-courier-business-30712 )
Increased competition for clients and downward pressure on reimbursement motivates clinical laboratories and pathology groups to look for ways to become more efficient and cost-effective. These competitive pressures are the reason why the strategy of outsourcing courier and logistics services is becoming more common, compared to past years.
—By Mark Terry