Executives and pathologists from many of the nation’s most prominent clinical laboratories are on their way to the Crescent City today to share best practices, hear case studies from innovative labs, and network
All this is happening amidst important changes to healthcare and medicine in the United States. “Today, the US healthcare system is transforming itself at a steady pace,” explained Robert L. Michel, Editor-in-Chief of The Dark Report and Founder of the Executive War College. “Big multi-hospital health systems are merging with each other, and payers are slashing reimbursement for many medical lab tests, even as healthcare consumers want direct access to clinical laboratory tests and the full record of their lab test history.
“Each of these developments has major implications in how clinical laboratories serve their parent organizations, offer services directly to consumers, and negotiate with payers for fair reimbursement as in-network providers,” Michel added. “Attending the Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management equips lab leaders with the tools they’ll need to make smart decisions during these challenging times.”
Now in its 28th year, the Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management convenes April 25-26 in New Orleans. Executive War College extends to a third day with three full-day workshops: LEAN fundamentals for lab leaders, a genetic testing program track, and a digital pathology track. Learn more at www.ExecutiveWarCollege.com. (Photo copyright: The Dark Intelligence Group.)
Challenges and Opportunities for Clinical Laboratories
With major changes unfolding in the delivery and reimbursement of clinical services, clinical laboratory and pathology practice leaders need effective ways to respond to the evolving needs of physicians, patients, and payers. As The Dark Report has often covered, three overlapping areas are a source of tension and financial pressure for labs:
Day-to-day pressures to manage costs in the clinical laboratory or pathology practice.
The growing demand for genetic testing, accompanied by reimbursement challenges.
Evolving consumer expectations in how they receive medical care and interact with providers.
Addressing all three issues and much more, the 2023 Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management features more than 80 sessions with up to 125 lab managers, consultants, vendors, and in vitro diagnostic (IVD) experts as speakers and panelists.
Old-School Lab Rules Have Evolved into New-School Lab Rules
Tuesday’s keynote general sessions (to be reported exclusively in Wednesday’s Dark Daily ebriefing) will include four points of interest for clinical laboratory and pathology leaders who are managing change and pursuing new opportunities:
Positioning the lab to prosper by serving healthcare’s new consumers, new care models, new payment models, and more, with Michel at the podium.
How old-school lab rules have evolved into new-school lab rules and ways to transition the lab through today’s disrupters in healthcare and the clinical laboratory marketplace, with Stan Schofield, Managing Principal of the Compass Group.
Wednesday’s keynotes conclude with a panel discussion on delivering value to physicians, patients, and payers with lab testing services.
Clinical Labs, Payers, and Health Plans Swamped by Genetic Test Claims
Attendees of the 2023 Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management may notice a greater emphasis on whole genome sequencing and genetic testing this year.
As regular coverage and analysis in The Dark Report has pointed out, clinical laboratories, payers, and health plans face challenges with the explosion of genetic testing. Several Executive War College Master Classes will explore critical management issues of genetic and genomic testing, including laboratory benefit management programs, coverage decisions, payer relations, and best coding practices, as well as genetic test stewardship.
This year’s Executive War College also devotes a one-day intensive session on how community hospitals and local labs can set up and offer genetic tests and next-generation sequencing services. This third-day track features more than a dozen experts including:
During these sessions, attendees will be introduced to “dry labs” and “virtual CLIA labs.” These new terms differentiate the two organizations that process genetic data generated by “wet labs,” annotate it, and provide analysis and interpretation for referring physicians.
State of the Industry: Clinical Lab, Private Practice Pathology, Genetic Testing, IVD, and More
For lab consultants, executives, and directors interested in state-of-the-industry Q/A and discussions concerning commercial laboratories, private-practice pathology, and in vitro diagnostics companies, a range of breakout sessions, panels, and roundtables will cover:
Action steps to protect pathologists’ income and boost practice revenue.
Important developments in laboratory legal, regulatory, and compliance requirements.
New developments in clinical laboratory certification and accreditation, including the most common deficiencies and how to reach “assessment ready” status.
An update on the IVD industry and what’s working in today’s post-pandemic market for lab vendors and their customers.
Federal government updates on issues of concern to clinical laboratories, including PAMA, the VALID Act, and more.
Long-time attendees will notice the inclusion of “Diagnostics” into the Executive War College moniker. It’s an important addition, Michel explained for Dark Daily.
“In the recent past, ‘clinical laboratory’ and ‘anatomic pathology’ were terms that sufficiently described the profession of laboratory medicine,” he noted. “However, a subtle but significant change has occurred in recent years. The term ‘diagnostics’ has become a common description for medical testing, along with other diagnostic areas such as radiology and imaging.”
Key managers of medical laboratories, pathology groups, and in vitro diagnostics have much to gain from attending the Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management, now in its 28th year. Look for continued coverage through social media channels, at Dark Daily, and in The Dark Report.
Medical laboratories may find opportunities guiding hospital telehealth service physicians in how clinical lab tests are ordered and how the test results are used to select the best therapies
Telehealth is usually thought of as a way for patients in remote settings to access physicians and other caregivers. But now comes a pair of studies that indicate use of telehealth in inpatient settings is outpacing the growth of telehealth for outpatient services.
This is an unexpected development that could give clinical laboratories new opportunities to help improve how physicians in telehealth services use medical laboratory tests to diagnose their patients and select appropriate therapies.
Dual Surveys Compare Inpatient and Outpatient Telehealth
Definitive Healthcare (DH) of Framingham, Mass., is an analytics company that provides data on hospitals, physicians, and other healthcare providers, according to the company’s website. A survey conducted by DH found that use of telehealth solutions—such as two-way video webcams and SMS (short message service) text—has increased by inpatient providers from 54% in 2014 to 85% in 2019, a news release stated.
Meanwhile, a second Definitive Healthcare survey suggests
use of telehealth in outpatient physician office settings remained essentially
flat at 44% from 2018 to 2019, according to another news
For the inpatient report, Definitive Healthcare polled 175 c-suite
providers and health
information technology (HIT) directors in hospitals and healthcare systems.
For the outpatient survey, the firm surveyed 270 physicians and outpatient
DH’s research was aimed at learning the status of telehealth
adoption, identifying the type of telehealth technology used, and predicting possible
further investments in telehealth technologies.
Most Popular Inpatient Telehealth Technologies
On the inpatient side, 65% of survey respondents said the most used telehealth mode is hub-and-spoke teleconferencing (audio/video communication between sites), Healthcare Dive reported. Also popular:
Healthcarereports that the telehealth technologies showing the largest
increase by hospitals and health networks since 2016 are:
Two-way video/webcam between physician and
patient (70%, up from 47%);
Population health management tools, such as SMS
text (19%, up from 12%);
Remote patient monitoring using clinical-grade
devices (14%, up from 8%);
Mobile apps for concierge services (23%, up from
“Organizations are finding new and creative ways through telehealth to fill gaps in patient care, increase care access, and provide additional services to patient populations outside the walls of their hospital,” Kate Shamsuddin, Definitive Healthcare’s Senior Vice President of Strategy, told Managed Healthcare Executive.
DH believes investments in telehealth will increase at
hospitals as well as physician practices. In fact, 90% of respondents planning
to adopt more telehealth technology indicated they would likely start in the
next 18 months, the news releases state.
Most Popular Outpatient Telehealth Technologies
In the outpatient telehealth survey, 56% of physician
practice respondents indicated patient portals as the
leading telehealth technology, MedCity
News reported. That was followed by:
Hub-and-spoke teleconferencing (42%);
Concierge services (42%);
Clinical- and consumer-grade remote patient
monitoring products (21% and 12%).
While adoption of telehealth technology was flat over the
past year, 68% of physician practices did use two-way video/webcam technology
between physician and patient, which is up from 45% in 2018, Fierce
MedCity News reports that other telehealth technologies in
use at physician practices include:
Mobile apps for concierge service (33%);
Two-way video between physicians (25%);
SMS population management tools (20%).
Telehealth Reimbursement and Interoperability Uncertain
Why do outpatient providers appear slower to adopt
telehealth, even though they generally have more patient encounters than
inpatient facilities and need to reach out further and more often?
Definitive Healthcare reports that 20% of physician practice
respondents are “satisfied with the practice’s current solutions and services,”
and though telehealth reimbursement is improving, 13% are unsure they will be
reimbursed for telehealth services.
The increase in telehealth use at hospitals—as well as its
increased adoption by physician offices—may provide clinical laboratories with opportunities
to assist telehealth doctors with lab test use and ordering. By engaging in telehealth
technology, such as two-way video between physicians, pathologists also may be
able to help with the accuracy of diagnoses and timely and effective patient
Kalorama’s ranking includes familiar big EHR manufacturer names—Cerner (NASDAQ:CERN) and Epic—and includes a new name, Change Healthcare, which was born out of Change Healthcare Holding’s merger with McKesson. However, smaller EHR vendors remain popular with many independent physicians.
“We estimate that 40% of the market is not in the top 15 [in total revenue rankings],” said Bruce Carlson, Kalorama’s publisher, in an exclusive interview with Dark Daily. “There’s a lot of room. There are small vendors out there—Amazing Charts, e-MDs, Greenway, NextGen, Athena Health—that show up on a lot of physician surveys.”
Interoperability a Key Challenge, as Most Medical
Interoperability—or the lack thereof—remains one of the
industry’s biggest challenges. For pathologists, that means seamless electronic
communication between medical laboratories and provider hospitals can be
elusive and can create a backlash against EHR vendors.
Kalorama notes a joint investigation by Fortune and Kaiser Health News (KHN), titled, “Death by a Thousand Clicks: Where Electronic Health Records Went Wrong.” The report details the growing number of medical errors tied to EHRs. One instance involved a California lawyer with herpes encephalitis who allegedly suffered irreversible brain damage due to a treatment delay caused by the failure of a critical lab test order to reach the hospital laboratory. The order was typed into the EHR, but the hospital’s software did not fully interface with the clinical laboratory’s software, so the lab did not receive the order.
“Many software vendors and LIS systems were in use prior to
the real launching of EHRs—the [federal government] stimulus programs,” Carlson
told Dark Daily. “There are a lot of legacy systems that aren’t
compatible and don’t feed right into the EHR. It’s a work in progress.”
“I think it is going to be a simple matter eventually,” he
said. “There’s going to be much more pressure from the federal government on
this. They want patients to have access to their medical records. They want one
record. That’s not going to happen without interoperability.”
Other common criticisms of EHRs include:
Wasted provider time: a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine notes providers now spend more time in indirect patient care than interacting with patients.
Physician burnout: EHRs have been shown to increase physician stress and burnout.
Not worth the trouble: The debate continues over whether EHRs are improving the quality of care.
Negative patient outcomes: Fortune’s investigation outlines patient safety risks tied to software glitches, user errors, or other flaws.
There’s No Going Back
Regardless of the challenges—and potential dangers—it appears EHRs are here to stay. “Any vendor resistance of a spirited nature is gone. Everyone is part of the CommonWell Health Alliance now,” noted Carlson.
Clinical laboratories and pathology groups should expect
hospitals and health networks to continue moving forward with expansion of
their EHRs and LIS integrations.
“Despite the intensity of attacks on EHRs, very few health systems are going back to paper,” Carlson said in a news release. “Hospital EHR systems are largely in place, and upgrades, consulting, and vendor switches will fuel the market.”
Thus, it behooves clinical laboratory managers and
stakeholders to anticipate increased demand for interfaces to hospital-based
healthcare providers, and even off-site medical settings, such as urgent care
centers and retail health clinics.
Despite the widespread adoption of electronic health record (EHR) systems and billions in government incentives, lack of interoperability still blocks potential benefits of digital health records, causing frustration among physicians, medical labs, and patients
Clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups understand the complexity of today’s electronic health record (EHR) systems. The ability to easily and securely transmit pathology test results and other diagnostic information among multiple providers was the entire point of shifting the nation’s healthcare industry from paper-based to digital health records. However, despite recent advances, true interoperability between disparate health networks remains elusive.
One major reason for the current situation is that multi-hospital health systems and health networks still use EHR systems from different vendors. This fact is well-known to the nation’s medical laboratories because they must spend money and resources to maintain electronic lab test ordering and resulting interfaces with all of these different EHRs.
The graphics above illustrates why interoperability is the most important hurdle facing healthcare today. Although the shift to digital is well underway, medical laboratories, physicians, and patients still struggle to communicate data between providers and access it in a universal or centralized manner. (Images copyright: Healthcare IT News.)
The lack of interoperability forces healthcare and diagnostics facilities to develop workarounds for locating, transmitting, receiving, and analyzing data. This simply compounds the problem.
Pressure from Technology Giants Fuels Push for Interoperability
According to HITECH Answers, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has paid out more than $38-billion in EHR Incentive Program payments since April 2018.
Experts, however, point out that government incentives are only one part of the pressure vendors are seeing to improve interoperability.
“There needs to be a regulatory push here to play referee and determine what standards will be necessary,” Blain Newton, Executive Vice President, HIMSS Analytics, told Healthcare IT News. “But the [EHR] vendors are going to have to do it because of consumer demand, as things like Apple Health Records gain traction.”
Another solution, according to TechTarget, involves developing application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow tech companies and EHR vendors to achieve better interoperability by linking information in a structured manner, facilitating secure data transmission, and powering the next generation of apps that will bring interoperability ever closer to a reality.
TechTarget reported on how University of Utah Hospital’s five hospital/12 community clinic health network, and Intermountain Healthcare, also in Utah, successfully used APIs to develop customized interfaces and apps to improve accessibility and interoperability with their Epic and Cerner EHR systems.
Diagnostic Opportunities for Clinical Laboratories
As consumers gain increased access to their data and healthcare providers harness the current generation of third-party tools to streamline EHR use, vendors will continue to feel pressure to make interoperability a native feature of their EHR systems and reduce the need to rely on HIT teams for customization.
For pathology groups, medical laboratories, and other diagnosticians who interact with EHR systems daily, the impact of interoperability is clear. With the help of tech companies, and a shift in focus from government incentives programs, improved interoperability might soon offer innovative new uses for PHI in diagnosing and treating disease, while further improving the efficiency of clinical laboratories that face tightening budgets, reduced reimbursements, and greater competition.
Future EHRs will focus on efficiency, machine learning, and cloud services—improving how physicians and medical laboratories interact with the systems to support precision medicine and streamlined workflows
When the next generation of electronic health record (EHR) systems reaches the market, they will have advanced features that include cloud-based services and the ability to collect data from and communicate with patients using mobile devices. These new developments will provide clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups with new opportunities to create value with their lab testing services.
Proposed Improvements and Key Trends
Experts with EHR developers Epic Systems, Allscripts, Accenture, and drchrono spoke recently with Healthcare IT News about future platform initiatives and trends they feel will shape their next generation of EHR offerings.
Automation analytics and human-centered designs for increased efficiency and to help reduce physician burnout;
Improved feature parity across mobile and computer EHR interfaces to provide patients, physicians, and medical laboratories with access to information across a range of technologies and locations;
A shift toward cloud-hosted EHR solutions with support for application programming interfaces (APIs) designed for specific healthcare facilities that reduce IT overhead and make EHR systems accessible to smaller practices and facilities.
Should these proposals move forward, future generations of EHR platforms could transform from simple data storage/retrieval systems into critical tools physicians and medical laboratories use to facilitate communications and support decision-making in real time.
And, cloud-based EHRs with access to clinical labs’ APIs could enable those laboratories to communicate with and receive data from EHR systems with greater efficiency. This would eliminate yet another bottleneck in the decision-making process, and help laboratories increase volumes and margins through reduced documentation and data management overhead.
Cloud-based EHRs and Potential Pitfalls
Cloud-based EHRs rely on cloud computing, where IT resources are shared among multiple entities over the Internet. Such EHRs are highly scalable and allow end users to save money by hiring third-party IT services, rather than maintaining expensive IT staff.
Kipp Webb, MD, provider practice lead and Chief Clinical Innovation Officer at Accenture told Healthcare IT News that several EHR vendors are only a few years out on releasing cloud-based inpatient/outpatient EHR systems capable of meeting the needs of full-service medical centers.
While such a system would mean existing health networks would not need private infrastructure and dedicate IT teams to manage EHR system operations, a major shift in how next-gen systems are deployed and maintained could lead to potential interoperability and data transmission concerns. At least in the short term.
Yet, the transition also could lead to improved flexibility and connectivity between health networks and data providers—such as clinical laboratories and pathologist groups. This would be achieved through application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable computer systems to talk to each other and exchange data much more efficiently.
“Perhaps one of the biggest ways having a fully cloud-based EHR will change the way we as an industry operate will be enabled API access.” Daniel Kivatinos, COO and founder of drchrono, told Healthcare IT News. “You will be able to add other partners into the mix that just weren’t available before when you have a local EHR install only.”
Paul Black, CEO of Allscripts, believes these changes will likely require more than upgrading existing software or hardware. “The industry needs an entirely new approach to the EHR,” he told Healthcare IT News. “We’re seeing a huge need for the EHR to be mobile, cloud-based, and comprehensive to streamline workflow and get smarter with every use.” (Photo copyright: Allscripts.)
Reducing Physician Burnout through Human-Centered Design
As Dark Daily reported last year, EHRs have been identified as contributing to physician burnout, increased dissatisfaction, and decreased face-to-face interactions with patients.
Combined with the increased automation, Carl Dvorak, President of Epic Systems, notes next-gen EHR changes hold the potential to streamline the communication of orders, laboratory testing data, and information relevant to patient care. They could help physicians reach treatment decisions faster and provide laboratories with more insight, so they can suggest appropriate testing pathways for each episode of care.
“[Automation analytics] holds the key to unlocking some of the secrets to physician well-being,” Dvorak told Healthcare IT News. “For example, we can avoid work being unnecessarily diverted to physicians when it could be better managed by others.”
Black echoes similar benefits, saying, “We believe using human-centered design will transform the way physicians experience and interact with technology, as well as improve provider wellness.”
Some might question the success of the first wave of EHR systems. Though primarily built to address healthcare reform requirements, these systems provided critical feedback and data to EHR developers focused not on simply fulfilling regulatory requirements, but on meeting the needs of patients and care providers as well.
If these next-generations systems can help improve the quality of data recording, storage, and transmission, while also reducing physician burnout, they will have come a long way from the early EHRs. For medical laboratory professionals, these changes will likely impact how orders are received and lab results are reported back to doctors in the future. Thus, it’s worth monitoring these developments.