In today's global economic and healthcare environments, efforts to improve patient care must incorporate effective strategies to help laboratories meet the highest achievable standards in the quality of the services they provide. A key focus in these efforts is to help laboratories meet global accreditation standards. Laboratories worldwide need access to high-quality educational resources and services to plan and execute quality improvement initiatives on their journey to meeting standards. To successfully overcome challenges faced in global markets requires innovative strategic alliances among organizations that can jointly provide the full range of support and expertise necessary to get the job done.
While most laboratories, including those in emerging healthcare markets, are dedicated to continually improving the quality of their work, they often lack access to the full range of educational tools and support services to accelerate or maintain different service improvement initiatives. Increasingly, leaders in the development of products and services to support laboratories are recognizing the advantages of forming strategic alliances with other organizations. These alliances can bring additional and often essential experience and insight to these efforts. In July of 2013, for example, our respective organizations announced a first-ever strategic alliance to help more laboratories in China and India gain access to education and support services that will help them earn accreditation to achieve rapid progress in service quality improvement. This unique collaboration is an innovative approach in service delivery that will be necessary to support laboratories in the years ahead.
Leveraging Core Competencies for Success
As the leading global organization in laboratory accreditation and quality assurance, the College of American Pathologists (CAP) has enrolled an estimated 22,000 laboratories in external quality assessment EQA/proficiency testing (PT). CAP accredits more than 7,500 laboratories around the world. CAP accredited its first laboratory in China in 2001; today in China there are 18 CAP-accredited laboratories and nearly 100 laboratories participating in CAP PT. In India, the first laboratory achieved CAP accreditation in 2002. Today, of the 71 laboratories in India participating in CAP PT, 42 have achieved CAP accreditation. Organizationally, CAP is dedicated to finding new and more effective ways to expand access to educational tools and resources for laboratories, especially in countries such as India and China, where demand for high-quality laboratory services is growing rapidly.
Any effort to improve laboratory quality must begin with clear guidance on accreditation standards. The path to achieve accreditation includes a portfolio of customizable, high-quality, cost-effective laboratory improvement programs and resources. For many years, the CAP Laboratory Improvement Program, the combination of accreditation, PT, education and other services, has been recognized as the leader in standards for laboratory quality improvement. This program helps laboratories evaluate their performance and improves the accuracy of patient results. A wide range of quality management tools is also available to strengthen knowledge of key laboratory processes and set benchmarks to continually improve service delivery and patient care.
The availability of services to support quality improvement must also be matched by an in-depth understanding of the needs of laboratorians in each country and region. Service providers must be familiar with national and regional marketing standards as well as the logistical and international trade procedures necessary to facilitate rapid and streamlined delivery for ongoing customer support. This requires extensive local market expertise, often including the proven ability to address multiple country-specific challenges in terms of product and service delivery simultaneously. Challenges can range from complex importation and customs procedures to language barriers and material viability issues.
Within this framework, organizations with an established market presence and extensive laboratory customer service experience in a target market can play a vital role. BD began operations in China in 1994 and in India in 1996, and now has in place an extensive network able to rapidly deploy technical and clinical resources to laboratories in these countries. In addressing issues as diverse as customs requirements, in-country delivery options, translations and other needs, working with an industry organization with an established presence and market-specific customer service can be an essential resource to support rapid and efficient delivery of products and services for laboratory quality improvement. Different forms of collaboration can also position multiple stakeholders including professionals in BD's Medical Affairs and Customer Service, members of CAP's inspection teams for accreditation, and even local contacts at laboratories that have adopted these practices, to work together in advancing these efforts. Together they can continually reinforce the essential need for laboratories to have access to the resources they need to improve the quality of their operations, and identify the optimal strategies to deliver them effectively. They can also play a role in refining communications, marketing, distribution and customer support procedures as necessary.
By helping laboratories improve sample collection practices and the services they provide to physicians, these new strategic alliances can have a direct and profound impact on the quality of patient care in countries around the world. For the 2.5 billion people in China and India, successful efforts to improve laboratory performance can lead to more accurate diagnosis and more effective treatment decisions for millions of people each year.
Accelerating and Broadening Impact
The primary goals in these types of alliances should focus on the benefits they deliver to clinicians and patients. Successful initiatives to help more laboratories meet global accreditation standards and improve the quality of laboratory results can also play a key role in helping these organizations distinguish themselves in their markets and enhance their position as regional and global leaders in the delivery of laboratory services. In many countries there may be financial incentives, expanded business opportunities, and other forms of recognition available to laboratory and hospital organizations that meet certain accreditation standards and quality improvement goals. In some cases, larger hospital and laboratory organizations that meet rigorous accreditation standards can establish themselves as centers of excellence and take an active role in providing learning opportunities to local laboratory technicians, pathologists and others to share in learning opportunities, helping them to improve quality at their own laboratories. In this way, outreach that establishes a connection with an individual laboratory or hospital can have broader regional impact.
By embracing opportunities to forge dynamic and innovative new strategic alliances, efforts to support quality improvement for laboratories around the world can be better positioned for success in the years ahead. They can combine the necessary expertise and market-specific insight with essential levels of flexibility and a targeted approach to serviced delivery. Laboratories that have access to this level of support will have the strongest opportunities to improve service delivery for doctors and patients while also taking on an expanded role in efforts to address many established and emerging global health challenges.
John Ledek is worldwide president, BD Diagnostics -- Preanalytical Systems. Gene Herbek is president-elect of the College of American Pathologists.