Among the hundreds of lab industry vendors exhibiting, there were more companies showing LIS and lab informatics products this year than last year
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Anytime 20,000 clinical chemists and medical laboratory scientists gather in the same place, at the same time, there is sure to be many different opinions about the state of laboratory medicine and key trends in the clinical laboratory testing marketplace.
That was certainly true of this year’s annual meetings of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC) and the American Society of Clinical Laboratory Scientists (ASCLS) that took place here in the Windy City and ended yesterday. Your Dark Daily editor was in attendance and saw many interesting things during the exhibition, which opened on Tuesday and closed Thursday.
More Vendors Offered Clinical Laboratory Informatics Products
In recent years, for example, the AACC’s exhibition hall has seen a small, but regular increase in the number of companies offering software and laboratory informatics services. This probably reflects a more intense use of information technology (IT) by hospitals, physicians, laboratories, and other providers, particularly in support of the trend toward more effective integration of clinical data, and the ability of physicians to access this data when treating patients, whether in inpatient, outpatient, or outreach settings.
Three examples—taken at random—represent vignettes of the types of IT products and services that were shown at the AACC exhibition this week.
For those Dark Daily readers who attend different clinical laboratory industry meetings, the massive tree bearing oversized fruit that has been the dominant feature of Orchard Software Corporation’s booth was gone this year. In its place was an equally substantial Sequoia Tree.
LIS Product Designed with Next-Generation IT Architecture
This Sequoia tree was featured because Orchard Software is launching its next generation laboratory information system (LIS), which it calls “Sequoia.” The company says that this LIS is distinctive because it is designed with today’s state-of-the-art IT architecture and utilizes current generation software code.
Because of these design features, Orchard’s President and CEO, Rob Bush, told Dark Daily that “our new Sequoia LIS is scalable from a small physician office laboratory (POL) to mid-sized and large hospital laboratories, and we designed it to be simpler for customers to install and operate.”
Dark Daily observed that Sequoia’s arrival in the LIS marketplace may be the competitive factor that is encouraging other LIS vendors to move more quickly to introduce their own “next generation” LIS products that no longer use IT architecture and code that may be a decade or more older.
Such an IT technology is MUMPS, a programming language that originated in the 1960s and has evolved through the 1980s and 1990s. (MUMPS stands for Multi-User Multi-Programming System.)
LIS Solutions Specifically for Molecular and Gene-Sequencing Labs
Staying with the theme of laboratory informatics, a number of companies were showing LIS products designed specifically for medical laboratories doing molecular and genetic testing. Because of the rapid advances in molecular diagnostics and next-generation gene sequencing, the needs of labs doing such tests has outrun the ability of many LIS vendors to design, introduce, and support modules to their existing LIS products that delight lab customers with their capabilities to support advanced molecular and genetic testing activities.
One LIS company CEO succinctly described the problem. “During our visits to clinical laboratories and pathology groups throughout the United States and Canada, we regularly see home-grown Excel spreadsheets and even handwritten reports that are used to capture the data from clinical testing,” stated François Falco, President and CEO of TechniData Medical Software, which is headquartered in Grenoble, France.
Hand-transcribing Genetic Test Data Can Lead to Errors
“The laboratory scientists capturing data in this fashion do recognize the fact that transcription of data in this fashion can produce errors,” continued Falco. “As well, this is an unproductive and time-consuming approach. That is why these labs are quite interested in a laboratory information system that is designed specifically to support the types of molecular assays and gene sequencing tests that they handle.”
The LIS product for molecular and genetic testing that TechniData was showing is called TD-Genet. The company says that this software was designed by geneticists, and it “encompasses all of the aspects of genetic testing from chromosomal to molecular.” It is also capable of “producing and storing all the essential administrative documents for genetics testing (informed consent, quality procedures, billing, activity reporting, etc).”
A third example of how IT companies are working to provide enriched IT products could be seen at the Cerner Corporation (Nasdaq: CERN) booth. It was exhibiting its laboratory automation equipment. Dark Daily readers may recall that last year, Cerner Corporation acquired Labotix, Inc. (See Dark Daily, “Cerner Corporation Enters the Clinical Laboratory Automation Market by Acquiring Labotix Automation Inc.,” March 20, 2013.)
Cerner Director of Lab Automation, Sam Bhatia told Dark Daily that, during this year’s AACC exhibition, visitors showed great interest in the Cerner Labotix line of products because of the “capabilities that Cerner offers with a line of laboratory automation equipment that has been more deeply integrated with Cerner’s LIS offerings.”
As with the examples above, the appeal to potential lab customers is tighter integration of the LIS with lab automation systems, lab analyzers and lab workflow in ways to enable the laboratory to deliver more value to clinicians, whether it is faster lab test turnaround times or enriched lab test data that contributes to improved patient outcomes.
One visible change from earlier years at the AACC annual meeting and exhibition is the impact of the new federal disclosure requirements that must be followed by any company that sells a product or service to a healthcare provider. Called the “Physician Payment Sunshine Act,” this law became effective on August 21, 2013.
Pathologists and Clinical Lab Managers Should Be Aware of New Law
Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers should be aware that, under the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, vendors are now required to publicly disclose financial and other arrangements they have with providers. These disclosures must be posted on vendors’ websites. In consequence of this and other regulatory changes, most lab industry vendors have greatly reduced the types of customer appreciation activities that were common at lab industry gatherings. (See Dark Daily, “Attention Pathologists and Clinical Laboratory Professionals: New ‘Sunshine Act’ Requirements Will Track and Publish Financial Relationships Providers Have with Healthcare Vendors,” January 13, 2014.)
This is one reason why there were fewer “entertainment” activities within the booths of exhibitors this year. Visitors did not see string quartets of attractive blondes in a company’s exhibit booth. Nor were there many opportunities to have one’s photo taken with the Blues Brothers (as in past years), for example. Despite the disappearance of these pleasant diversions, attendees in the exhibition hall still showed high energy and keen interest in the latest product innovations on display this year.
Dark Daily Editor