Evidence is emerging that medical laboratories using the ‘daily management’ approach can outperform other labs, even those using Lean methods
Clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups are information-rich environments. Yet, there is irony in the fact that—in response to financial pressures and incentives to improve the quality of medical laboratory testing services—most of the nation’s clinical labs cannot tap that rich vein of information to support performance improvement goals.
Those financial pressures have shrunk lab budgets and caused price cuts to medical laboratory test prices. These two factors are behind the trend of clinical labs and pathology groups buying middleware solutions that produce real-time data feeds on all aspects of lab operations, from phlebotomy and specimen transport, to accessioning, testing, reporting, client services monitoring, and billing/collections.
Medical Laboratories Turn to Middleware Systems to Generate Data
These middleware systems are designed to tap nearly all data sources in the medical lab. For example, they typically interface with laboratory information systems (LIS), diagnostic analyzers, automated systems, client service data bases, and the lab’s financial management software. The best of these middleware solutions can do so in real time and allow managers in the clinical laboratory to create dashboards and customized reports.
About 15 years ago, early-adopter medical laboratories began to invest in such middleware solutions. The lab directors of these information-rich environments knew that the data needed to manage their operations effectively was in the LIS and related information systems. But, as of 2000, few LIS vendors had programmed their products to tap that information and present it in useful ways to support closer management of work flows in the laboratory. For this reason, pioneering lab organizations began to purchase and install middleware solutions that could do these tasks.
Clinical Labs Begin Using Lean Methods in 2003
Then, starting in 2003, Lean techniques arrived. That year three major health systems engaged Lean consultants at Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics’ ValuMetrix consultancy to improve the quality, productivity, and turnaround time performance of their high-volume central laboratories. Not only was the acceptance of Lean methods a milestone for the entire clinical laboratory industry, but it increased the demand for the accurate, detailed, and real-time information that lab managers needed to drive continuous improvement in their lab organizations.
What is new today is how well-managed medical lab organizations have harnessed the two trends of Lean management and expanded the use of real-time management dashboard systems to drive their lab’s performance to higher levels of quality, productivity, and cost-effectiveness. One lab industry executive who has been on the front lines of these trends is Thomas Joseph, Founder, President, and CEO of Visiun, Inc., of Ann Arbor, Michigan. His company develops and sells performance data systems to clinical laboratories.
25 Years of Experience in Gathering and Assessing Lab Performance Data
For more than 25 years, Joseph has worked with leading lab organizations to help them collect and analyze performance data and use the data to drive improvements throughout their laboratories. According to Joseph, the intersection of the trends of Lean and real-time dashboards has produced new ways for pathologists and lab administrators to take the performance of their lab operations to the first quartile—backed by external benchmarking data that validates these accomplishments.
“What we see emerging is the importance of what we call ‘daily metrics’ in helping well-managed labs continuously improve their lab operations to productivity levels that would rank their labs among the top-performers in the lab industry,” observed Joseph. “Both Lean and non-Lean labs that use daily metrics effectively will outperform their peers.
Medical Labs Using ‘Daily Metrics’ Outperform Peer Labs
“Our analysis shows that labs that have adopted Lean and produce daily metrics on performance can achieve performance levels similar to that of best-practice labs in just a few months,” stated Joseph. “In fact, clinical labs that have adopted Lean and have daily metrics on performance are now outperforming labs that were early adopters of Lean.
“This exceptional performance is reflected in all measures, including median turnaround times and 90% completion rate, which is a measure of outliers,” he added.
These assessments are based on hard data. In another nascent trend that will benefit medical laboratory directors, companies such as Visiun are becoming reliable sources of benchmarking data. A cloud-based solution, such as Visiun, serves many clinical lab customers. By gathering real-time, accurate data from these clients, it can compile precise minute-by-minute benchmarks that customers can use to make improvements in the operational and quality performance of their labs.
Cincinnati Health University Hospital Lab Uses ‘Daily Management’
Within labs that use these dashboard solutions, daily management is a key that unlocks substantial gains in quality, in shorter test turnaround times, and increases productivity of lab instruments and lab staff. One example is the clinical laboratory at University of Cincinnati Health University Hospital. For more than 17 months, it has used the Visiun Performance Insight Dashboard to monitor daily performance.
Since its implementation, the system has increased the ability of lab managers to access data in real time and customize reports in just minutes, boosting quality and productivity. “I have four chemistry analyzers to monitor in the main laboratory,” noted Heather Hargis, BS, MT (ASCP), Manager of Lab Performance Improvements and Lean Initiatives. “We can now pull up reports with graphs in minutes.
“Now it is fast and quick for me to compare the performance of all four chemistry instruments going back, say, six weeks,” she continued. “I can quickly and accurately compare the results for certain analytes every two to three weeks to verify that each instrument is performing exactly the same. We also use this dashboard to evaluate TATs from the hospital’s two associated facilities, as well as the performance of couriers and laboratory response times.”
The experience of Hargis and her colleagues at the University of Cincinnati Health University Hospital’s clinical lab illustrate how the capability of accessing real-time metrics underpins the use of daily management. Recognizing this emerging trend in the management of medical laboratories, Dark Daily has published a 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. Use this link http://darkdaily.com/white-papers/harnessing-the-power-of-real-time-analytics-to-achieve-world-class-performance-in-clinical-laboratories-and-pathology-groups-30314 to immediately access the full white paper.
The white paper not only presents an overview of information management tools available to clinical laboratories, but also explains how laboratory managers can use business intelligence systems such as these to improve the day-to-day performance of their clinical laboratories and pathology groups. Included in the white paper are case studies from three clinical laboratories in which laboratory managers discuss how they use performance data systems in their labs to increase efficiency and cut costs.