Leveraging Technology

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We speak with doctors and experts on the added value of leveraging new lab technology and how it improves patient outcomes through laboratory testing

It’s no secret that laboratory data makes up the majority of the information used during patient diagnosis.1 With the evolving nature of technology in the healthcare industry, the right equipment can make all the difference in a facility. Faster, more accurate results allow for improved patient outcomes and shorter stays, while the financial benefits of quicker turnaround times affect the organization directly. In a recent interview with ADVANCE, Denise Uettwiller-Geiger, PhD, DLM(ASCP), director of laboratory services and clinical trials at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, discussed the role of technology in value-based care and patient outcomes.

She highlighted her facility’s new laboratory systems, equipment and processes as key factors in improvements to the hospital – specifically in the area of hospital-acquired infections. Having started incorporating automated technologies in 2001, the John T. Mather Memorial Hospital laboratory recently implemented the second phase of automation. Not only does this cut down on the costs of man-power due to the hands-free nature of the majority of the laboratory, but due to automated processes, the laboratory has been able to significantly speed up turnaround times for patient testing.

“Value-based care is really important,” said Uettwiller-Geiger. “One of our prime examples for that is looking at the hospital-acquired infections, and how hospitals can avoid giving patients hospital-acquired infections.”

Enter Pop Health

One aspect of the hospital’s revamped hospital-acquired infection screening processes was the introduction of population health management tactics, which targeted patients who might be particularly susceptible to infections like MRSA and C. diff. In addition to patient data analysis, the increased presence and benefits of molecular diagnostic capabilities added both precision and speed to the screening protocols. Ultimately, the ability to predict, assess and treat patients appropriately before the instance of an outbreak allows facilities to be proactive rather than reactive, saving lives and costs.

“The implementation of our MRSA screening/surveillance program leveraged rapid diagnostic testing technologies for infectious disease with active collaboration with key stakeholders in the organization to provide high-value patient outcomes,” continued Uettwiller-Geiger. “And it demonstrates the value of rapid, actionable clinical laboratory information by reducing infection rates and saving millions of dollars in care associated with hospital-acquired infection.”

Benefits of Technology

For patients, getting sick can be not only dangerous, but expensive. One of the benefits of faster testing provided by superior technology is a decreased length of stay. During her interview, Uettwiller-Geiger pointed out that hospital-acquired infections aren’t just dangerous, but also extend patients’ stay, which increases the overall cost of their treatment and puts them at a greater risk. Improving turnaround times in the laboratory through upgraded equipment allows for faster results and, consequently, faster diagnosis and treatment to get patients back on their feet as quickly and safely as possible.

“When we reduce the number of infections, we decrease the length of stay as well as enhance patient safety because we know patients can succumb to these infections,” explained Uettwiller-Geiger. “It increases the medical cost of their stay and length of stay and puts them at higher risk for mortality.”

Information Technology

Improved equipment is only as good as the rest of the facility, however. This is especially the case in fully automated laboratories like the one in John T. Mather Memorial Hospital. The procedures, protocols and processes involved in laboratory testing wouldn’t be able to function at nearly the same level without an efficient LIS. Similarly, the healthcare facility’s EMR system must integrate and connect with the information provided by the laboratory to provide the necessary communication between the two areas and supply clinicians and physicians with the appropriate data to make medically sound decisions.

With the need for technology to be both functional and integrated, the relationship between the laboratory staff, the IT department and the rest of the hospital should be effective and flexible to ensure that things run smoothly and projects get completed in a timely manner. In Uettwiller-Geiger’s hospital, for example, there are representatives from the lab staff within the IT department who specialize in the LIS and can respond quickly to potential situations. They help foster the relationship between departments.

“The biggest barrier to implementation of technology today is being able to work successfully with your IT department,” said Uettwiller-Geiger. “And we do have two medical technologists that are part of our IT department and certainly are the liaisons between the lab and the IT departments.”

In situations like the John T. Mather Memorial Hospital hospital-acquired infection screening program, the speed and reliability of the lab allowed the hospital to get ahead of potential infections, saving patients’ health and financial costs. By preventing these kinds of costly events, a facility can also benefit financially by sparing itself the in-house costs of extended patient stays and additional treatment. The key to improved outcomes and value is the ability to produce rapid, actionable data to diagnostic teams, which comes from leveraging laboratory technology.


Reference

Importance of Clinical Lab Testing Highlighted During Medical Lab Professionals Week. American Clinical Laboratory Association website. April 17, 2014. www.acla.com/importance-of-clinical-lab-testing-highlighted-during-medical-lab-professionals-week/

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Michael Jones
Michael Jones

Michael Jones is an associate editor at ADVANCE for Laboratory.

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