Vol. 25 No. 11 Page 24
Using clinical informatics management tool data to better optimize operations.
Due to increased workloads, extensive documentation requirements and the perpetual demand to bridge talent gaps, already busy laboratories find it difficult to structure the environment and adapt within a rapidly changing landscape. External forces—such as the pace of hospital consolidation and clinical lab acquisitions—place additional pressure on laboratories, but these emerging challenges don’t stop there; healthcare systems constantly push to reduce expenditure, Medicare and Medicaid payments fall below operating costs and a shift to population health management creates an unfavorable inpatient/outpatient volume ratio.
These examples merely represent a few reasons why effective management of laboratory processes and instrumentation is essential. Fortunately, new clinical informatics tools provide much-needed relief. By enabling lab managers to access data and gain greater insight into laboratory operations, they can finally make fact‐based operational improvement decisions.
Focus on Patients & Results
Today’s clinical laboratory is busier than ever, so utilization of powerful informatics tools help laboratorians focus their attention on the two primary concerns: patients and accurate, timely results. The two most common bottlenecks that hinder efficient treatment are both the delivery delay as well as inaccuracy of test results. To resolve these obstacles, informatics tools disseminate accurate test results to laboratorians faster than ever before, which ultimately helps healthcare providers make more informed treatment decisions that advance continuity of patient care.
Equipped with modern informatics tools, user‐defined verification rules are now easily managed and written by laboratory personnel. No longer relying on an IT department to change commands within the LIS system—laboratorians may now establish customized rules to efficiently upload and download data and further improve laboratory processes as well as workflow.
Informatics tools can help labs take the next step in their quality assurance (QA) process improvements. Laboratories can establish two types of quality assurance monitoring: one based on commercial materials and one based on patient results. QC monitoring based on commercial materials can be reported through standard charts such as Levey‐Jennings and managed through auto‐validation using Westgard Rules.
However, the real power of data analytics is in the area of patient‐result quality management.
Algorithms, such as exponentially weighted moving averages, alert laboratorians when patient data trend away from acceptable ranges. This proactive warning can help prevent the release of erroneous patient results and reduce costly test repeats. It also contributes to the continuity of patient care through its early detection capacity, which reduces false low or high results, and provides a high level of confidence in results released.
Efficient Sample Processing
As demand for samples increases and resources decline in parallel, labs must look at ways to improve sample workflow. Informatics systems help efficiently track samples from any networked location. This provides visibility into real‐time sample status through a continually updated pending log. To boost efficiency further, user‐defined rules criteria can be set up to decrease manual review rates through auto‐validation.
Rules can also be set up to eliminate manual re‐programming via reflex testing and delta checks. Proactive alerts give information to laboratorians regarding recent test add‐ons, identifying test, instrument, and sample location.
Centralized Instrument Management
As the number of instruments within a lab increases, labor resources to monitor lab workflow and decision‐making steps may become constrained. However, by connecting multiple instruments to one central workstation, operators can easily monitor sample status, QC status, patient test results and essential instrument data through one consolidated view. Not only does this control workflow and simplify lab operations, it’s also especially beneficial during night shifts, when laboratorians must frequently monitor multiple instruments.
Maximize Instrument Uptime
With resource demands at an all‐time high, instrument downtime is an untenable situation.
Continuous monitoring of lab instruments must preemptively report, diagnose and resolve technical issues so your lab operates at peak capacity.
To assist with this requirement, instrument providers can now remotely monitor operating system parameters such as temperature, power supply and vacuum pressure. This data stream can then be used to alert manufacturers when an instrument drifts out of range, thus empowering a representative to contact the lab as soon as an incident occurs.
If granted access, manufacturer’s representatives can launch remote desktop sharing sessions for collaborative diagnosis, or even enable them to potentially correct the system remotely. This level of proactive service greatly reduces instrument downtime.
Efficiently Expand Outreach
With the shift to population health management and increased pressures on profitability, laboratories increasingly turn to these types of proactive outreach programs. The mere ability to rapidly access data enables you to create value through customer service, drive quality and accountability, and manage your opportunity pipeline. Any one of those capabilities gives you a competitive advantage, let alone all three simultaneously.
Additionally, customer relationship management (CRM) tools provide rapid and easy access to real‐time data. This data can be represented in intuitive dashboards that visually represent current operational status. With that clarity of vision, business rules can be established to alert you as soon as critical metrics shift and empower you to initiate resolutions instantly.
Laboratories face economic pressures on multiple fronts. Despite these challenges, labs still face an unrelenting requirement to consistently deliver high‐quality testing services. Today, informatics tools such as middleware and CRM systems help laboratorians track key performance metrics in order to make insightful decisions regarding lab operations improvement strategies and tactics. Equipped with these powerful informatics management tools, laboratories can get back to delivering quick, consistently accurate results while advancing the continuity of patient care in parallel.