Five trends happening in the laboratory industry
Managing a successful hospital-based laboratory in today’s economic climate requires leaders to keep their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening right now and look around the corner at what’s coming next. Here is a look at what is currently trending in the laboratory industry.
Independent hospitals and small health systems are being bought and integrated into larger organizations. These integrations can cross state lines and, in some cases, act as a life raft for smaller, cash-strapped independents by streamlining standardizations and facilitating cost savings. As this trend continues, we can expect to see a small number of large health systems dominating the nation’s health care as the well of individual hospitals and health systems continues to dry up.
Independent providers have unique demands and needs. The increasing trend toward employment changes their business model and how they interact with the laboratory. With this arrangement, they can have access to built-in system support mechanisms such as information technology, logistics, and phlebotomy location access, making it easier to serve these providers.
With the scarcity in both collection and testing personnel, leaders are creatively approaching their laboratory operations to combat the need. Many hospitals are implementing, or increasing, their automation in order to utilize their excess capacity without having to increase the number of staff. Numerous health systems have designed internal programs with a “grow your own” mentality to ensure a reliable supply of technical staff. These programs transform existing employees into testing personnel through additional training and online education.
Lastly, leadership closely examines the tasks within the laboratory in which a technologist is not required per regulation. These are complexity-driven but can assist with the strain of staff shortages if they can be performed by phlebotomists or lab assistants.
The emergence of digital pathology, especially when partnered with artificial intelligence (AI), greatly benefits those hospitals with the foresight to invest in these frontiers for both their patients and their bottom line. Providers now have access to specialized pathologists that may not have been previously available. Health systems can pair increased access with robust data analytic tools to aid in early detection, proper treatment algorithms, and better outcomes for their patients. The future in this space is still wide open as we continue to learn the full impact of AI’s influence on today’s medicine.
Patients learned during the COVID-19 pandemic that they could perform laboratory testing at home with relative ease. We see this phenomenon spreading to other types of laboratory tests in the marketplace such as allergy testing, wellness health panels, sexually transmitted infections, and immunity screens. The companies providing at-home testing also pair it with a smartphone app for patients to log in and view results.
With the active role that today’s patient consumer is playing in their own health, it is wise for laboratories to gain a presence on their electronic medical record’s patient portal for convenient registration and accessing patient results. Another important convenience feature is a patient’s ability to schedule an appointment for specimen collection at a nearby location and time that works best for them. Creating a quick scheduling, registration, and collection experience with full access to test results will move toward securing patient loyalty.
For the hospital laboratory to succeed, its leaders must be able to anticipate challenges, navigate obstacles, and develop creative approaches to unusual circumstances. Beyond what’s trending, these are now considered essential skills for today’s laboratory leader.