Sessions at this annual medical laboratory conference demonstrated that lab outreach continues to be a productive clinical and business line at numerous hospitals and IDNs
Sept. 26-Chicago: During the past 24 months, there have been multiple news stories announcing that different hospitals or integrated delivery networks (IDNs) had signed agreements to sell their clinical laboratory outreach businesses to one of the two multi-billion-dollar commercial lab corporations. Some Wall Street analysts have taken these lab outreach acquisitions as a sign that hospitals are struggling to compete in the outreach laboratory marketplace. They predict that the big commercial labs will continue to scoop up hospital laboratory outreach businesses at a brisk pace.
However, this may be an example of popular wisdom not reflecting the true state of the outpatient/outreach market for clinical laboratory testing services. Evidence of the contrary view—that many hospitals and IDNs have flourishing lab outreach programs—was in plain view last week here in the Windy City.
During last week’s “Leveraging the Laboratory” outreach conference in Chicago, produced by Mayo Clinic Laboratories, the individuals pictured above each presented different aspects of success in operating an effective hospital clinical laboratory outreach program. Front row top to bottom they are Henry Givray, Leadership’s Calling; Brianne Newton, Mayo Clinic Laboratories; Nilesh Kachalia, Yuma Medical Center; Trudie Milner, PhD, Yuma Regional Medical Center. And rear row top to bottom: Robert Michel, The Dark Report; Tony Bull, Medical University of South Carolina; Nicholas Rambow, Corewell Health; Jane Hermansen, Mayo Clinic Laboratories; Ellen Dijkman Dulkes, Mayo Clinic Laboratories. (Photo copyright: The Dark Report.)
Optimism was High at Mayo’s Lab Outreach Conference
Throughout the two days of the conference, there was enthusiasm for the viability of hospital laboratory outreach programs. There was also optimism that these local and regional outreach businesses will continue to be profitable and can support better patient care. Had any of the Wall Street analysts been in attendance, they would have heard the other side of the coin about the profitability and viability of hospital laboratory outreach programs—a story documented by the presentations of different hospital and IDNs that operate flourishing lab outreach programs.
“What makes this meeting unique is that it is the longest-running and biggest conference devoted to best practices in hospital and health system laboratory outreach programs,” said Jane Hermansen, Manager, Outreach and Network Development at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. “There are signs that increased integration within multi-hospital health systems requires a common lab test menu with consistent methodologies and reference ranges.
“During the conference, we heard many participants describe one part of their lab testing services to office-based physicians as ‘inreach’ when it involves employed providers of the parent health system,” she continued. “This is evidence that health system administration recognizes the value of a full longitudinal lab test record for their patients—whether from inpatient, inreach, or outreach testing.
“As well, this year’s exceptionally large attendance shows that hospital-based labs across the United States are forging ahead with their lab outreach services in ways that generate many benefits,” Hermansen noted. “The most important is to help physicians deliver better care to patients. At the same time, the added test volumes from a productive hospital laboratory outreach program improves the productivity of the laboratory while generating much needed income that helps that lab’s parent organization.”
Day one of this two-day event featured presentations about successful hospital laboratory outreach programs. Speakers included:
Day two was organized around hands-on workshops that addressed the management, operational, financial, and sales/marketing elements that make up a growing, dynamic hospital laboratory outreach business. Attendees were fully engaged in these sessions as they learned best practices. Innovations and clever approaches to increasing physician and patient satisfaction were shared during peer-to-peer exchanges.
Local Clinical Laboratories Serving their Communities
Hospital laboratories are uniquely positioned to deliver value to the physicians and other providers in the towns and regions they served. The obvious benefit is that the lab, its employees, and its clinical pathologists all live in the community. They have professional relationships that may go back decades with the physicians who order medical laboratory tests for their patients.
These local hospital labs can report many test results on the same day that they get the specimens from the doctors’ offices. Another benefit for those physicians and patients is that when a hospital lab performs all the tests originated in inpatient, outreach, and outpatient settings, it has a full longitudinal record of a patient’s lab test results, which often covers years of testing. This is important when patients show up in specialists’ offices or hospital emergency departments. Physicians in these settings can see all of the patient’s lab test history, and the tests are performed with the same methodology and have the same reference ranges.
Ways to Differentiate Hospital Laboratory Outreach Services
Hospital and health system laboratory outreach programs have multiple ways to differentiate their lab testing services. During his presentation, Tony Bull, System Administrative Officer, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, provided the following list of different benefits that a lab outreach program can offer to local physicians, patients, and consumers:
Ease of access
Marketing and sales
One point of competitive advantage the speakers emphasized was the outreach laboratory’s access to lab test data. When lab data is combined with patient demographics and other sets of data, an outreach laboratory can develop clinically actionable intelligence that helps physicians and health insurers improve patient care, while lowering the total cost of care. When packaged correctly, these enriched data offerings can generate a new source of revenue for lab outreach programs.
Given the tough finances experienced by health systems and hospitals across the United States in recent years, it’s notable that the attendees at Mayo Clinic Laboratories’ “Leveraging the Laboratory” conference reported positive growth and profitable results from their laboratory outreach programs.
That’s solid evidence that there continues to be an opportunity for pathologists and clinical laboratory leaders of IDNs to ramp up their laboratory outreach businesses to win new client-physicians and produce additional cash flow for their labs.
From ‘new-school’ rules of running a clinical laboratory to pharmacy partnerships to leveraging lab data for diagnostics, key industry executives discussed the new era of clinical laboratory and pathology operations
“COVID-19 didn’t change a whole lot of things in one sense, but it accelerated a lot of trends that were already happening in healthcare,” said Robert L. Michel, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report, and Founder of the Executive War College, during his opening keynote address to a packed ballroom of conference attendees. “Healthcare is transforming, and the transformation is far more pervasive than most consumers appreciate.
“Disintermediation, for example, is taking traditional service providers and disrupting them in substantial ways, and if you think about the end of fee-for-service, be looking forward because your labs can be paid for the value you originate that makes a difference in patient care,” Michel added.
Another opportunity for clinical laboratories, according to Michel, is serving Medicare Advantage plans which have soared in enrollment. “Lab leaders should be studying Medicare Advantage for how to integrate Medicare Advantage incentives into their lab strategies,” he said, highlighting the new influence of risk adjustment models which use diagnostic data to predict health condition expenditures.
Opening sessions at this week’s annual Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management, presented by Robert L. Michel (above), Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report, discussed demand for delivering healthcare services—including medical laboratory testing—as consumer preferences evolve, new care models are designed, and as payers seek value over volume. While these three forces may be challenging at the outset, they also create opportunities for clinical laboratories and pathology groups—a focal point of the Executive War College each year. (Photo copyright: The Dark Intelligence Group.)
Medical Laboratories Must Adapt to ‘New-School’ Rules
During his keynote address, Stan Schofield, Vice President and Managing Principal at The Compass Group, noted that while the basic “old-school” rules of successfully running a clinical laboratory have not changed—e.g., adding clients, keeping clients, creating revenue opportunities, getting paid, and reducing expenses—the interpretation of each rule has changed. The Compass Group is a trade federation based in South Carolina that serves not-for-profit healthcare integrated delivery networks (IDNs), including 32 health systems and 600 hospitals.
Schofield advised that when it comes to adding new clients under the “new-school” rules of lab management, clinical laboratory directors must be aware of and adapt to hospital integrations of core labs, clinical integrations across health systems, seamless services, direct contracting with employers in insurance relationships, and direct-to-consumer testing. Keeping clients, Schofield said, involves five elements:
Strong customer service.
A tailored metrics program for quality services based on what is important to a lab’s clients.
Balanced scorecards that look at the business opportunity and value proposition with each client.
Monitoring patients’ experiences and continuous improvement.
Participation in all payer agreements.
As to the problem of commoditization of laboratory goods and services, Schofield said, “Right now, we’re facing the monetization of the laboratory. We’re going to swiftly move from commoditization to monetization to commercialization.”
Diagnostics and pharmacy now intersect, according to Pope. “Pharmacists are on the move, and they are true contender as a new provider for you,” he said. “An area of pharmacy that is dependent upon labs is specialty medications.”
Specialty medicines now account for 55% of prescription spending, up from 28% in 2011, driven by growth in auto-immune and oncology, Pope noted. Other examples include companion diagnostics required for targeted treatments pertaining to all major cancers, and new areas like thalassemia (inherited blood disorders), obesity, next-generation sequencing, and pharmacogenomics, in addition to routine testing such as liver function and complete blood count (CBC).
Federal legislation may soon recognize pharmacists as healthcare providers who will be trained to perform specific clinical services, Pope said. Some states already recognize pharmacists as providers, he noted, explaining that pharmacies need lab data for three primary reasons:
Service—Pharmacies can act as a referral source to clinical laboratories. When referring, pharmacies may need to communicate lab test results to patients or providers to coordinate care.
Value-based care—Pharmacies would draw on data to counsel, prescribe, and coordinate care for chronic disease management, among other services.
Diagnostics and pharmacogenetics—Specialty medication workflows require documented test results within a specific timeframe prior to dispensing.
Another point Pope made: Large pharmacies are seeking lab partners. Labs that can provide rapid turnaround time and good pricing on complex tests provide pharmacies with partnership opportunities.
Using AI to Create Patients’ ‘Digital Twins’ That Help Identify Disease and Improve Care
High-tech healthcare technology underlies many opportunities in the clinical laboratory and pathology market, as evidenced throughout the Executive War College’s 2023 curriculum. An ongoing challenge for labs, however, is how to produce the valuable datasets that all labs have the potential to generate.
“It feels like we’ve come so far,” explained Brad Bostic, CEO of hc1 during his keynote address. “We’ve got the internet. We’ve got the cloud. All of this is amazing, but in reality, we have this massive proliferation of data everywhere and it’s very difficult to know how to actually put that into use. And nobody’s generating more data than clinical laboratories.
“Every single interaction with a patient that generates data gives you this opportunity to create the idea of a ‘digital twin.’ That means that labs are creating a mathematical description of what a person’s state is and using that information to look at how providers can optimally diagnose and treat that person. Ultimately, it is bigger than just one person. It’s hundreds of millions of people that are generating all this data, and many of these people fall into similar cohorts.”
This digital twin opportunity is heavily fueled by medical laboratory testing, Bostic said, adding that labs need to be able to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to:
“I recommend lab leaders sit down with their teams and any outside partners they trust and identify what are their lab’s goals,” Bostic stated. “Think about how this technology can advance a lab’s mission. Look at strategy holistically—everything from internal operations to how patient care is affected.”