News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel

News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
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Are Recent Predictions Regarding the Future of Healthcare Positive or Negative for Clinical Laboratories?

Medical laboratories that develop appropriate clinical strategies may find opportunities to leverage several new technologies expected to have a big impact on providers

Industry experts often speculate how developing technologies will impact healthcare. However, clinical laboratory leaders may be surprised by how much blockchain, medical malls, and Uber Health are expected to alter healthcare delivery in the next decade.

An article in FierceHealthcare states that “Healthcare is on the cusp of a technology revolution. Technology is primed to disrupt healthcare more explosively than it has any other industry.”

Medical advancements certainly impact clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups, and any acceleration in these developing technologies applied to healthcare will certainly be of interest to lab leaders who want to ensure their labs are ready.

Blockchain Provides Healthcare Security, Privacy, and Interoperability

Authored by Sloan Gaon, CEO, PulsePoint, the FierceHealthcare article predicts that blockchain will be an important feature in the future of healthcare. It will allow patients to have an online, accurate health record that is accessible only to necessary parties in real time. Consumers will be able to maintain, control, and share their data as they wish while increasing the security, privacy, and interoperability of their health information.

“A primary care physician could access a complete medical history of the member, while the radiologist could be limited to only the specifics he or she needs to perform the task at hand. For each, it’s about accessing the right data at the right time, and the blockchain technology could enable this type of specific ‘need-to-know’ medical history access,” wrote Bruce Broussard, President and CEO of Humana in a LinkedIn article.

The blockchain records can be shared among a network of computers and kept secure via cryptography. And the technology allows for easy transferability among different networks, improving performance and outcomes for patients. Broussard also stated that blockchain technology will provide more efficient payment for insurance claims.

“With transparency and automation, greater efficiencies will lead to lower administration costs, faster claims, and less money wasted. Blockchain enables claims to be paid without an intermediary, since health plan members are connecting directly with their providers. These consumers can also access their permanent electronic health records in a secure fashion, enabling them to have a real-time understanding of their health,” he wrote.

Should blockchain achieve widespread adoption as a platform for patient health information, the clinical laboratory industry will need to address the problem of different test methodologies and different reference ranges for test results. If blockchain makes it feasible to bring all pieces of a single patient’s cumulative health data into a single record, then clinical labs will need to address that problem in an effective way.

In his FierceHealthcare article, Sloan Gaon, CEO of PulsePoint, said “Technology will drive innovation, automation, transparency and efficiency, rendering the current healthcare landscape unrecognizable. As technology garners healthcare’s gold seal of approval, its effects will upend the industry, shrinking costs and improving outcomes.”

Medical Malls a Win-Win for Healthcare Providers and Retail Locations

With big shopping malls dying due to economic recessions and the emergence of online retail destinations, property owners are seeking new tenants. In the summer of 2017, there were still about 1,100 malls remaining in the US, however, a quarter of them were at a risk of closing within five years, Time noted that year.

As healthcare organizations expand, there is an overwhelming need for suitable space that is accessible for consumers at a reasonable price. Fading shopping malls with their convenient locations, sturdy foundations, and large parking lots could fill that gap.

In February of 2017, Avita Health System opened a boutique hospital in a space once occupied by an anchor store in a mall located in Ontario, Ohio. The healthcare provider purchased a 185,000 square-foot space that was formerly a Lazarus department store.

Mansfield News Journal reported that when the hospital opened, it included a walk-in clinic, an emergency room, surgical suites, pre-operative and post-operative areas, an onsite pharmacy, imaging services, a clinical laboratory, and 30 acute care beds.

Other services, including a Level II Cath lab, a maternity center, and the installation of a 3T Magnetic Resonance Imaging (3T MRI) machine, have been added since the facility opened. And there’s room for more expansion at the site.

Vanderbilt Medical Group (VMG) now occupies the entire second level of One Hundred Oaks Mall, in Nashville, Tenn. Their services at the once-struggling retail shopping center include 22 specialty clinics in 450,000 square feet of space designed by architecture firm Gresham Smith.

Patients can pick up a pager at the VMG facility and then shop on the lower level while waiting to be paged to see a healthcare professional or receive test results.

“More important than the significant increase in our available clinical space is the overall concept and design which is focused on providing our patients, faculty, and staff with a new paradigm for health and wellness. The convenience, accessibility, and innovative ways of providing care for our patients are a true transformation of both the architecture and the way our patients experience healthcare,” said Cyril Stewart, former Director of Facility Planning for Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in a testimonial on the Gresham Smith website.

Non-Emergency Medical Transportation and Uber Health

Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reported in 2016 that “Medicaid’s non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) benefit facilitates access to care for low income beneficiaries who otherwise may not have a reliable affordable means of getting to healthcare appointments. NEMT also assists people with disabilities who have frequent appointments and people who have limited public transit options and long travel times to healthcare providers, such as those in rural areas.”

The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) reported that an average of 3.6 million Americans miss their healthcare appointments annually due to lack of or unreliable transportation. These missed appointments can cause an avalanche of future problems, including increased visits to emergency rooms, extended hospital stays, and higher costs for providers.

Uber Health is positioned to become a major player in the field of non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT). The Verge reported in 2018 that independent research organization Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) estimated that the NEMT market was worth more than $3 billion.

“If there are people who are missing their appointments because they’re using an unreliable bus service to get to and from their healthcare provider, this is a great solution for them,” Christopher Weber, General Manager and Senior Project Manager at Uber Health, told The Verge. “The types of individuals this is valuable for really is limitless.”

Uber health’s mobile device application (app) enables patients and healthcare providers to schedule non-emergency medical transportation for medical appointments within a few hours or up to a 30-day notice. It is also available both as an online dashboard and as an application-programming interface (API) for software developers to integrate the service into their proprietary healthcare tools.

An Uber (NYSE:UBER) account is not required, as notifications about rides can be sent to patients via text messages.

Clinical laboratory leaders may want to develop strategies around these three predictions to increase business and maximize profits. Since more healthcare organizations will soon be linked via blockchain, and an increased number of consumers could start using non-emergency medical transportation, such as Uber Health, to get to medical appointments, becoming familiar with these technologies could prove to be beneficial to labs.

In addition, medical facilities cropping up in former mall spaces will require medical laboratories to be onsite to support care and provide lab test results within an acceptable turnaround time.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Industry Voices—How the Future of Healthcare Will be Shaped by the Likes of Uber, CVS

Blockchain: Transformational Technology for Health Care

Why the Death of Malls is about More than Shopping

Avita Ontario Hospital Poised to Open

Mall Landlords Welcome Medical Clinics as Retail Ails

Fighting the Blight: Reinventing Retail space for Vanderbilt Health

Uber is Driving Patients to Their Doctors in a Big Grab for Medical Transit Market

Association of Rideshare-Based Transportation Services and Missed Primary Care Appointments: A Clinical Trial

Study Finds Missed Medical Appointments Not Affected by Free Ride Services

Medicaid Non-Emergency Medical Transportation: Overview and Key Issues in Medicaid Expansion Waivers

UnitedHealth Group’s MedExpress and Walgreens Boots Alliance Initiate Pilot Program to Put Urgent Care Centers in Walgreens Pharmacies

Clinical laboratories should prepare to receive test orders from these mini-medical centers, based on consumer demand for quick, inexpensive, local healthcare

Is the era of clinical laboratory testing offered in retail stores soon to arrive? Dark Daily as long as 10 years ago predicted that walk-in clinics featuring a nurse or nurse practitioner who could diagnose and prescribe for a limited number of health conditions—which had a remedy that could be purchased at the pharmacy in the retail store—would be the door-openers to locating more sophisticated clinical services in retail settings.

Since then, we’ve covered many such openings—including free standing urgent care clinics opening in urban settings to service the consumer demands of busy patients—which have impacted clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups in predictable ways.

Late last year, UnitedHealth Group’s MedExpress and Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:WBA] announced a joint pilot program to open urgent care centers attached to Walgreens stores.

The premise of the collaboration was based around the belief that consumers would welcome the opportunity and benefits of receiving basic healthcare services in a facility located next to a pharmacy. The Walgreens/MedExpress agreement, however, also indicates that two of the largest healthcare organizations in the world believe consumers would also be interested in visiting physicians who provided more sophisticated medical services, including critical care, in retail settings.

To date, Walgreens has opened MedExpress clinics in 15 locations in six states, including: Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. More such clinics are expected to open this year as part of the collaboration.

“MedExpress is a resource for busy families and employers that need timely access to affordable, high-quality healthcare close to home and work,” Fred Hinz (above), VP of Operations at MedExpress told Drug Store News. “Being connected to Walgreens will enable our patients to receive quality care and purchase any other items they need, all in one trip.” It also will likely result in increased orders for clinical laboratory testing from retail locations. (Photo copyright: Grand Island Independent.)

Future Health System Delivers Critical Care from Retail Locations

Motivated by consumer demand for convenient, high-quality healthcare, the urgent care market in the United States continues to grow. This trend will eventually influence clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups seeking to service these providers. It will be a dynamic market as new participants and mergers compete for leverage in this profitable business.

“This is just part of developing an overall higher-performing local health system,” Forbes reported UnitedHealth CEO David Wichmann telling analysts during the company’s earning call last month. “It’d just be one component that may be nested inside a local care delivery market with ambulatory surgical capacities and house calls and things of that nature. This is the future health system that we see delivering considerable value to people.”

The speedy growth in the number of and profitability of urgent care centers is another confirmation that this healthcare trend has legs. And experts believe the growth will continue and accelerate.

A recent report by market research and consulting firm MarketsandMarkets (MnM) predicts the global urgent care market should reach $25.93 billion (US) by the year 2023. The current value of the industry is $20 billion. The growth rate for the industry is expected to be 5.3% with North America being the region accounting for the highest amount of that growth.

The MnM report attributes the rise in the urgent care market to many factors, including:

  • Growing investments in urgent care;
  • Strategic developments between urgent care providers and hospitals;
  • Access to affordable care;
  • Convenience of shorter wait times; and,
  • Increase in the geriatric population.

The report projects that the biggest hurdle facing the urgent care industry will be the lack of a skilled workforce.

Urgent Care a Growth Industry According to Experts

There are currently more than 7,500 urgent care facilities in the United States, according to an Urgent Care Association (UCA) white paper.

According to the UCA, the top six urgent care organizations in the US each have more than 100 locations. Those companies include:

A 2017 UCA benchmarking report states that only 3% of patients who are seen at an urgent care facility were diverted to an emergency room in 2016. The top diagnosis codes for visits during that year were:

  • Acute upper respiratory infection;
  • Unspecified acute sinusitis;
  • Acute pharyngitis;
  • Cough; and,
  • Fever.

A report by Becker’s Hospital Review states that urgent care visits account for 19% of all healthcare visits in the US.

Urgent Care Centers Badly Needed and Highly Profitable

Last year, strategy consulting firm Health Systems Advisors (HSA) commissioned a study regarding the current and future need for urgent care centers. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, the HSA study stated that:

  • “With the recent rise of urgent care development, there is an estimated 22% unmet need for urgent care in markets where urgent care sites could be financially viable;
  • “The unmet demand is so large that approximately 1,600 new urgent care sites can be supported generating nearly $3.5 billion in revenue; and,
  • “For health systems seeking to grow, the urgent care channel presents a unique opportunity to grow their revenue, influence patients’ downstream choices, and create a better experience for individuals desiring more convenience and better access.”

And data collected by FAIR Health indicates that, between 2007 and 2016, insurance claims for urgent care visits grew by a whopping 1,725%! Claims for emergency room visits increased by 229% during the same time period. FAIR Health is a non-profit organization that examines insurance claims for medical services for the purpose of bringing transparency to healthcare costs and insurance information.

Opportunities for Clinical Laboratories to Support Physicians

Clinical laboratories and pathology groups should pay attention to the burgeoning trend in urgent care, as those facilities order medical tests that will require processing, reading, and analyzing.

Exploring opportunities to serve urgent care centers offers clinical laboratories potential revenue streams and opportunities to serve the physicians practices and medical communities they support.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

UnitedHealth, Walgreens Partner to Put Urgent Care Next to Pharmacies

Report: MedExpress, Walgreens Pilots Grow to 15 Locations

Urgent Care Center Market by Service (Acute Illness Treatment, Trauma/Injury Treatment, Physical Examination, Immunization and Vaccination), Ownership (Corporate Owned, Physician Owned, Hospital Owned), and Region

Urgent Care Center Market on Track to Hit $26B by 2023

Urgent Care Industry Hits $18 Billion as Big Players Drive Growth

Health System Growth Using Urgent Care

20 Things to Know About Urgent Care

Top Urgent Care Organizations by Number of Centers

The Essential Role of the Urgent Care Center in Population Health

Patient Expectations Driving Growth in On-Demand Care

Urgent Care Centers: US Market Research Report

Consumer Trend to Use Walk-In and Urgent Care Clinics Instead of Traditional Primary Care Offices Could Impact Clinical Laboratory Test Ordering/Revenue