Recent reports show why labs need more robust laboratory information systems (LIS), including a shrinking workforce, new requirements to connect to EMRs in hospitals and physicians’ offices, and the development of health information exchanges.

Clinical laboratories nationwide are realizing they need new and more powerful laboratory information systems (LIS) as they seek to process larger volumes of medical laboratory tests with a shrinking number of medical technologists and clinical laboratory scientists.

In response to the critical shortages of MTs, CLSs, and other laboratory scientists, most clinical laboratories are beefing up automation in all areas of the lab. From the high-volume core chemistry/hematology laboratory to microbiology and histology, laboratory automation systems are becoming ubiquitous. But all this lab automation increases the need to use information technologies to manage both automation and the flow of specimens through the laboratory.

A report published earlier this year by Kalorama Information of Rockville, Maryland, actually links the shortage of skilled medical laboratory staff as one of the most important factors in fostering growth in the LIS market. Researchers estimated the size of the LIS market at $800 million and predicted that it would grow about 6% annually for the next few years.

As pathologists and clinical laboratory managers know, labor accounts for more than 60% of the cost of producing medical laboratory test results. The Kalorama report stated that laboratory automation and better information management systems can reduce the number of manual procedures and tasks in the typical medical laboratory, In turn, this helps optimize labor efficiency, said the report titled, Laboratory Information Systems (LIS / LIMS) Markets.

Laboratory Information Systems (LIS) in the 21st Century: The Challenges and the Promises

Laboratory Information Systems (LIS) in the 21st Century: The Challenges and the Promises

“With growing pressures to cut costs, increase efficiencies and quality of care, and report test results in real time, [clinical] labs must plan for more sophisticated LIS if they wish to remain competitive,” the report explained.

“The vendors with a long-term view are developing a next-generation of LIS that will meet the needs that even many of today’s systems cannot provide,” commented Kalorma Publisher Bruce Carlson. “Hospitals are rapidly automating, and clinical lab information systems will need to offer features such as an interface with electronic charting, EMRs, real-time data integration, reporting, analytics and data visualization, and insurance billing software.”

More sophisticated LIS are needed to do more than these systems have done in the past. A hospital with many point-of-care testing (POCT) devices in use throughout the facility, for example, will need to collect the data from these devices and send that data into patients’ electronic health records (EHRs), the report said.

Developments outside of the hospital also are driving the need for more sophisticated LIS. The federal government is reimbursing physicians and hospitals that invest in health information technology (HIT), specifically by adopting electronic medical record (EMR) and EHR systems that meet the rules for meaningful use (MU) as defined by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Data last year from the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) showed that 81% of hospitals and 41% of office-based physicians intended to take advantage of incentive payments from the U.S. government for adoption of certified EHR systems that achieve MU, according to a published report.

Another factor that makes it imperative for labs to have robust LIS is the need to connect to local and regional health information exchanges. HIEs facilitate the movement of electronic health data in secure and interoperable fashion among disparate providers and information systems, according to the American Health Information Management Association. To do so, they use nationally recognized standards to ensure the integrity of the data, AHIMA said.

“The goal of HIEs is to facilitate the secure access, use, and control of health information in support of patient-centered care delivered in a safe, high quality, cost effective, and timely manner,” AHIMA reported on its web site. At least 234 HIEs are operating nationwide, and the earliest ones were started in the 1990s, AHIMA said.

A new White Paper available at Dark Daily addresses these pressing issues. It reports on why clinical laboratories need better, more effective (LISs) today. The report shows that the best-of-class LIS products today can streamline workflow, integrate multiple laboratory specialties (including non-clinical laboratory components like specimen tracking and courier services), and have the flexibility to grow with the technology for both the LIS and laboratory testing. Titled Laboratory Information Systems (LIS) in the 21st Century: The Challenges and the Promises, the White Paper is available at: darkdaily.com/white-papers.

“In addition, these systems need to be customizable, be able to effectively and easily interface with both the institution’s electronic health record, the laboratory’s automated equipment, and provide Web-based access for physicians,” wrote Gerald Choder, who is Vice President, Sales and Marketing at Netlims LLC, and author of the White Paper.

For clinical laboratories that have older information systems, the White Paper has specific advice. “Homegrown systems and legacy LIS often have problems with connectivity, scalability and flexibility, especially as technology changes within the laboratory and healthcare industry,” noted Choder. “Off-the-shelf products often force medical laboratories to modify their workflow to adapt to the LIS, rather than the other way around.”

To address these needs, in his White Paper, Choder recommends that pathologists and laboratory administrators seek out LIS solutions that provide customizable functionality and scalability. The LIS should also be capable of a high level of adaptable connectivity to accommodate EMRs in both hospitals and physicians’ offices.

—Joseph Burns

Related Material

Laboratory Information Systems (LIS) in the 21st Century: The Challenges and the Promises

EHR Use Up Among Doctors, Hospitals

EHR Market To Reach $6.5 Billion By 2012

National electronic health records network gets closer

Many hospitals, doctors plan to adopt EHR

Most Connected Hospitals: the Era of Electronic Medical Records

Most Connected Hospitals: the List

Laboratory Information Systems (LIS / LIMS) Markets