Information Technology Series
Editor's note: This is the conclusion of our 3-part series, A Vision for Change. The series can be found in its entirety online at http://laboratory-manager.advanceweb.com/Web-Extras/Online-Extras/A-Vision-for-Change.aspx
Much of today's conversation about the clinical lab's quest to maximize quality and efficiency centers on the use of technology to streamline operations, reduce human intervention and associated errors, and address the critical shortage of trained personnel. This definition of the lab's needs has spurred important advances in product development, notably in middleware to complement the data management functions of the lab information system (LIS). Laboratories have embraced Lean and Six Sigma and made major strides, yet opportunities for improvement remain. Lab managers today speak about issues of complexity and information overflow, the untapped potential in using data to manage processes, and the need to integrate and automate the myriad of steps from test ordering through specimen collection, analysis and results reporting.
To unleash more fully the power of diagnostics IT in improving quality and efficiency, a new perspective may be needed-one that couples data management more closely with instrument operations and one that represents a more integrated view of workflow. In 2006, Siemens initiated a customer advisory board (CAB) to understand the intricacies of lab operations and glean insights for a new generation of diagnostics IT products.
From Insight to Innovation
The Siemens CAB soon began guiding development by providing early input. Key requirements were identified. One is the need for customizable, flexible solutions. Another is the importance of visualization in ensuring the clarity and timeliness of actionable updates. The realization that significant workflow interruptions often result from seemingly minor process issues led to the incorporation of exception management in the product concept. The CAB provided feedback as functionalities were tested and optimized, allowing real-time course correction. The result is the definition of a new diagnostics IT product, grounded in the concept of process management, which integrates process control with data management. Process management encompasses four core features: centralized visibility, centralized control, exception management and process analytics.
Centralized visibility owes its origin to visual manufacturing, emblematic of which is the contemporary factory floor where assembly lines are managed from a central control room. Another analogy is air traffic control, "where you are able to track and communicate with incoming, outgoing and 'in process' traffic," according to Sheryl Wilson, whose lab is one of the first in the world to test Siemens syngo® Lab Process Manager.
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The way the computer screen is designed to present the data is just as important. For example, being able to customize the screen for specific job functions and work areas will help lab personnel focus on what they need to pay attention to. This reduces complexity and makes sure critical information is not missed. The workstation can also allow viewing of critical areas, in addition to instrumentation, by including webcam images on the screen display. This allows lab personnel to see potential bottlenecks such as centrifuge malfunction or be alerted of the arrival of critical samples.
Centralized control is a natural extension of centralized visibility. Status updates, flags and alerts on the computer screen make it easy for the lab professional to know what needs to be done and take required action right from the workstation. This expedites processes by ensuring timely action. Alerts can be preset to different levels of priority and forwarded to responsible supervisors by email when required.
Exception management is the antidote to information overload; it helps avoid delays due to time elapsed while lab personnel review the data to identify problem areas and prompts lab personnel to intervene as required. As a result, lab personnel have more time to focus on what needs to be done. Productivity is increased since their efforts are properly directed and key issues are addressed in a timely manner. Errors due to information missed during human review are reduced.
Process and quality improvements begin with an accurate understanding of how well current operations are achieving desired goals. Performance metrics empower lab management to troubleshoot and perfect processes and identify opportunities for improvement. But the value of performance metrics goes beyond looking at the past or current operations. Labs also can use performance metrics to assess the impact of proposed changes and fine-tune them before implementation. This facilitates early troubleshooting and helps drive ongoing improvements to achieve operational and business goals.
The Human Factor
Process management integrates process control and data management and takes a holistic view of all the steps from specimen collection through reporting of results. This can help labs achieve new levels of quality and efficiency and thus enhance the value of clinical diagnostics in the health system. In this context, it is easy to overlook an important contribution-to the well being of the lab professional. Susan Dawson believes that shifting the burden of data management and process control to diagnostics IT will enable her staff to leave the workplace "feeling that they still have energy left to enjoy their [home] lives."
In addition to helping lab professionals achieve peak performance in operations, diagnostics IT enables them to focus on the most satisfying components of their jobs-to add value to the health system through their expertise and to stay on the forefront of their field.
The authors are founding members of the development team of the syngo® Lab Process Manager. In addition to his responsibilities at Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, Eric Olson is a founding member and president of the IVD Industry Connectivity Consortium (IICC).
To learn more about the ways Siemens is helping labs increase their effectiveness, visit: www.siemens.com/diagnostics-IT.