Goal is for medical laboratories to enhance patient’s phlebotomy experience
DATELINE: San Antonio, Texas—Here in the Alamo City this week, many of the nation’s most innovative clinical laboratories, pathology groups, and in vitro diagnostics manufacturers came together to share their successes in the use of Lean, Six Sigma, and similar process improvement techniques.
The occasion was the Fourth Annual Lab Quality Confab and Performance Improvement Institute. This high-energy event was notable for several reasons. First, despite a lackluster economy, attendance was up more than 20% over last year. When asked about their participation, many attendees said that their parent hospital or health system sent them to the Lab Quality Confab specifically to bring back ideas for quality improvement projects that would advance clinical care while taking costs out of laboratory operations.
More Medical Laboratories Now Use Lean and Six Sigma Methods
This indicates that progressive medical laboratory organizations continue to invest in ways that can help them control costs while sustaining and improving patient safety and the quality of clinical services they provide to physicians.
The second notable development is the diversity of process improvement projects tackled by clinical labs and speakers at Lab Quality Confab. More than 44 speakers and sessions provided information about Lean improvement projects that tackled activities both external to the lab organization as well as internal to the laboratory. Three examples demonstrate this remarkable diversity and creativity:
To create the “ideal” patient service center (PSC) layout and workflow, Tina Stover, the Operations Manager of Laboratory Services at WellSpan Health’s York Hospital, in York, Pennsylvania, described how her Lean team used process improvement tools to identify the optimal solutions. The lab at York Hospital is now building all PSCs to this standard and teaching the optimal standard work to phlebotomists and staff. Patient satisfaction, as measured by surveys, has improved dramatically.
Equally distinctive was the effort at St. John Providence Health System in Gross Pointe Woods, Michigan, to create a single patient registration process that included laboratory, radiology, and other hospital departments. Pamela Melcher, who is responsible for Quality, Regulatory Compliance, POCT, and Safety in the laboratory division, explained how Lean and similar process improvement methods were used to break across long-standing silos to benefit the patient experience. Overall wait times for patients declined significantly, even as the participating hospital service departments have seen increased patient throughput.
To improve the hospital’s clinical outcomes in stroke and cardiology services, the laboratory at Southern Regional Health System in Riverdale, Georgia used Lean projects to unlock the potential of the laboratory information system (LIS). April Bashaw, the Business Manager of Outreach and Pathology, shared the specific steps taken to draw out data previously inaccessible in the LIS and use this information to improve patient care in the areas of stroke and cardiology. A substantial benefit from this effort was improvements in billing and claims submissions that resulted in increased collections and more reimbursement.
Along with these examples of process improvement projects, a full slate of case studies at this year’s Lab Quality Confab covered process improvement projects in the pre-analytical stage, analytical stage, and post-analytical stage. Collectively, these speakers and sessions confirm that the Lean and Six Sigma trend is robust and expanding into more hospitals and clinical laboratories.
Strong Interest in Quality Management Systems and ISO 15189
As noted in Wednesday’s Dark Daily titled “ISO 15189 Proves to Be a ‘Hot Topic’ for Clinical Pathology Laboratories at Lab Quality Confab,” one significant development during this year’s Lab Quality Confab was the unexpectedly strong interest shown by attendees in quality management systems (QMS) and ISO 15189.
Since many of the attendees at Lab Quality Confab are working in clinical laboratories where process improvement techniques have been in use for five or more years, their keen interest in QMS and ISO 15189 might be considered as a sign that their respective medical laboratory organizations are ready to take a deeper plunge into quality management via the implementation of a QMS such as ISO 15189.