Real-time data feeds give managers a view on turnaround time, physician ordering patterns, staffing levels, workload, specimen quality, and instrument performance
Financial pressures are intensifying at the nation’s clinical laboratories. This is particularly true of the labs serving hospitals and health systems. Declining inpatient volume and less revenue per inpatient admission are reasons why hospital lab budgets are shrinking.
These trends mean clinical lab administrators and pathologists are being asked to do more with less. To meet this challenge, many lab organizations are acquiring real-time analysis tools and management dashboard systems to help managers identify opportunities to slash lab expenses, while boosting productivity and client satisfaction.
More Medical Laboratories Are Buying Business Intelligence Solutions
Because of the steady growth in the number of medical laboratory organizations acquiring and using these information technology solutions, some experts have said that the lab industry is entering the age of business intelligence (BI). Even if it is too early for such a statement to be true, the companies selling management dashboard and BI solutions are enjoying robust growth.
One expert, who has almost three decades of experience in analyzing and reporting metrics for laboratory operations, workflow, and financial performance, said that the timing of the BI trend is no coincidence. “Medical laboratories have always been data-rich organizations,” observed Thomas Joseph, Founder, President, and CEO of Visiun, Inc., in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “However, lab managers have always found it difficult to obtain metrics from traditional laboratory information systems without significant time and effort.
“Now health insurers are asking labs to provide them with enriched data sets at the same time that hospital and health system administrators are raising the bar for improved service and asking their clinical laboratories to improve lab test turnaround time (TAT), perform more work on a smaller budget, and boost the productivity of lab automation systems and lab staff,” he explained. “These goals can be accomplished only by working with real-time data feeds on all the operational activities within the lab.
More Pressure on Clinical Laboratories to Boost Productivity
“The pressure to improve performance explains why nimble labs are buying analytics solutions that make it easy to combine different information feeds,” added Joseph. “These systems can draw from many information sources, ranging from the LIS to the EMR, and other data sources within organizations.
“In addition, pathologists and lab directors are starting to appreciate the ability of performance data systems to identify patterns and bottlenecks, and resolve workflow problems before they occur,” he continued. “Previously, lab managers worked from spreadsheets that reflected performance that was days or weeks old. But with the best analytics systems, they can identify trends in performance that may signal trouble ahead of time and fix them before they become problems that degrade performance.
“The most remarkable thing about these labs is that they are now surpassing the performance of the best early adopters of Lean by combining the practice of daily management with effective business analytics solutions,” added Joseph.
How One Clinical Laboratory Uses a Performance Data System
One healthcare provider using a performance data system in its clinical laboratory is the Seton Healthcare Family in Austin, Texas. When it installed such a system two years ago, lab executives wanted to move away from pouring over numbers on spreadsheets that were often a summary of data from the previous month so that they could see data collected and reported in real time.
“Before the system went live, every manager in the lab believed each department was hitting its targets for turnaround time,” stated Thel Grayson, BS, MT (ASCP), Interim-Network Director of Laboratories for Seton Healthcare. “Performance reports, including TAT data, came from the LIS each month, and, as in most labs, these reports focused on average TAT. Throughout our lab, the reports showed acceptable levels of performance.
“But in reality the service issues we needed to address were not average TAT,” Grayson explained. “Calls from the ER would be about the lab tests that were overdue.
“A more telling statistic was the number of test results that fell outside of the average TAT ranges—meaning the outliers!” she continued. “The number of outliers did not skew the average. But even a small number of outliers each day could become a much larger number by the end of each month.
Reporting Individual Outliers along with Average TAT
“When the performance data system showed the outlier numbers along with the average TAT, lab administrators could monitor results in each department more precisely,” she added. “Those documented statistics also helped us to hold employees and managers accountable for their results.”
Given the increasing level of interest in these systems Dark Daily has published a new white paper on performance data systems. The white paper, “Harnessing the Power of Real-Time Analytics to Achieve World Class Performance in Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups,” is available as a free download by clicking here.
By presenting an overview of current information management tools available to clinical laboratories, the white paper explains how laboratory managers can use these business intelligence systems to improve day-to-day performance in the clinical laboratory.
Three Medical Laboratory Case Studies in the White Paper
It’s important to note that the report also outlines how clinical laboratories and pathology group practices are using business analytics data to implement Lean and other quality improvement programs. In the report are case studies in which managers from three clinical laboratories (Seton Healthcare Family, Franciscan Health System Laboratory Services in Tacoma, Washington; and from the University of Cincinnati Health University Hospital Laboratory in Ohio) discuss how they are using performance data systems in their labs to boost efficiency while also cutting costs.
—by Joseph Burns