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Home » CAP TODAY Recommends

Connecting Labs to Greater Medical Value:
How three hospitals are discovering new possibilities
with connected core labs

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Evolving patient needs. Growing budget constraints. A shrinking workforce. Facing ever-growing demands, the healthcare industry stands at a crossroads. What’s the best way forward?

Often seen as a behind-the-scenes player, the core lab is uniquely positioned to help address some of the pressures hospital networks face by delivering greater medical value and costs saved that can result from testing efficiency. Why? Up to 70 percent of a patient’s experience, including diagnosis, treatment, admission and discharge, is influenced by a single factor: laboratory test results.1

Up to 70 percent of a patient’s experience is influenced
by a single factor: laboratory test results.1

To unlock potential, adaptability is key

Even so, the core lab isn’t immune to the demands that the rest of the healthcare industry is facing. It must find ways to remain competitive by increasing testing volumes, reducing turnaround times, handling more complex tests and delivering results with greater precision. In addition, the core lab must do so as patient populations and needs change and healthcare concerns shift over time.

However, thanks to recent technological innovations, core labs have an extraordinary opportunity to meet today’s challenges and tomorrow’s possibilities, providing greater capacity, efficiency, flexibility and improved medical value. How? By integrating multiple testing disciplines into one fully automated and connected workflow. This is the connected core lab.

While such labs are a relatively new concept, early adopters are already realizing significant benefits in their core labs. More important, their connected core labs are having a positive impact across their healthcare systems.

Core labs of all sizes have the ability to harness the power of the connected core lab. Here’s a look at three hospital labs that are leveraging the capabilities, and flexibility, of the connected core lab for their present and future needs.

Achieving a flexible future at Huntsville Hospital

Whether it’s a career or a hospital lab, the ability to adapt to changing needs fosters longevity. As the director of laboratory services at Huntsville Hospital, Vicky McClain, M.A., M.T., knows all about longevity. Poised to celebrate her 43rd year with the hospital in October, McClain oversees a state-of-the-art connected core lab, whose transformation began 20 years ago.

Back then, McClain and her team were looking for ways to increase the lab’s productivity and profitability. They decided to launch what became a successful outreach program. Extending its services beyond traditional inpatient and outpatient testing, the Huntsville Hospital lab began processing specimens from other healthcare providers in the area, such as doctors’ offices and nursing homes.

“Why send it out when you can bring it inside your institution?” McClain says. “However, as the volumes grow, you either have to add more people to do those tasks, or look at technology. We looked at technology.”

“As the volumes grow, you either have to add more people
to do those tasks, or look at technology. We looked at technology.”

Vicky McClain, M.A., M.T., director of laboratory services, Huntsville Hospital

Over the years, the lab was able to keep pace with changing physician demands. The outreach business enabled the Huntsville lab to take a “pay as you go” approach. The increase in testing volumes justified the need for ongoing investments in the latest automation equipment and IT solutions.

Today, the lab is the eighth-largest hospital-based lab in the country. It processes more than 8,000 specimens a day, which travel through miles of pneumatic tubes that connect the lab to the main hospital, as well as the Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children. Once a specimen arrives at the lab, it’s rarely touched by human hands.

“Ninety percent of all the specimens that come into our lab go on the line and stay on the line,” says lab manager Nichola Marcus.

“Ninety percent of all the specimens that come into our lab
go on the line and stay on the line.”

Nichola Marcus, lab manager, Huntsville Hospital

Even after analysis, specimens are automatically placed into an archiving system, from which they can be easily retrieved for any add-on testing. According to Marcus, the increase in testing volume and automation technology heightens medical value, too.

“Higher volume means we can bring more testing in-house and offer our patients a broader assay menu,” Marcus says.

Both Marcus and McClain agree automating processes helps reduce the potential for human error. For labs about to begin the journey that the Huntsville Hospital lab started on 20 years ago, Marcus offers some advice.

“Forget everything you know about what you do now,” Marcus says. “Go back to the core of what has to be done to a specimen, and find the best way to utilize your automation to get it done.”

“Forget everything you know about what you do now.
Go back to the core of what has to be done to a specimen,
and find the best way to utilize your automation to get it done.”

Nichola Marcus, lab manager, Huntsville Hospital

Going with the (work) flow at Nebraska Methodist Hospital

For Jacque Lattimer, clinical operations manager at Nebraska Methodist Hospital in Omaha, Neb., a connected core lab means the ability to meet the changing healthcare needs of the surrounding community without overburdening her staff.

“If we are to meet the national expectations for stroke certification or chest pain accreditation, we need to be able to step up to the plate and provide the best technology and services; and I feel that we can do that now,” Lattimer says.

In September 2016, Nebraska Methodist began running a connected automated line between the core lab and the chemistry line. The lab receives samples from the hospital’s surgical center, oncology and emergency departments, as well as other inpatient services. Already, the change has significantly streamlined workflow. For example, the lab is now able to easily handle the large influx of specimens that come in from the clinics in the afternoon.

“In the past, we would have to manage our samples and only load a few racks at a time,” Lattimer says. “That’s no longer an issue.”

“In the past, we would have to manage our samples
and only load a few racks at a time. That’s no longer an issue.”

Jacque Lattimer, clinical operations manager, Nebraska Methodist Hospital

While Nebraska Methodist’s lab has gained workflow efficiencies, it hasn’t reduced its staff. Instead, the staff has been able to redirect its efforts to focus on specimen quality.

“It gives them a chance to think more about the type of samples we’re receiving. Are we putting out quality results? Is this a quality specimen? Does this result make sense?” Lattimer says. “The automation gives us the time to think about these things more, and, really, our focus should be on the quality, not on manual steps.”

In fact, the lab has been able to upgrade its entire quality control program, and add reflex testing based on rules. Now, Lattimer says the next step is to fine-tune the lab’s reporting, leveraging middleware to capture data in greater detail to show where the lab’s performance is meeting expectations and where it can improve.

For hospitals considering connecting their core labs, Lattimer advises to take advantage of a vendor’s offer for a workflow analysis.

“See how you can reduce the number of steps you are taking, or reduce the number of potential biohazard exposures, or the repetitiveness,” Lattimer says. “Give your staff a chance to grow with the automation.”

By maximizing workflow efficiency, the Nebraska Methodist lab has been able to take on more while sharpening its focus on producing quality results. By achieving higher testing volumes and pursuing higher quality results, the lab has increased its medical value to its physician clients and the surrounding community it serves.

Seeing a greater return on tomorrow at Geisinger Medical Laboratories

After a century in its former building, Geisinger Medical Laboratories moved into its new home in September 2015.

Decades of planning went into creating the fully automated and connected facility located at Geisinger Medical Center in Mechanicsville, Penn. The significant investment of time and money was made with an eye on reaping the benefits of improving the patient and physician experience while reducing operational costs and streamlining workflow.

Already, the lab, which helps serve the Geisinger Health System in southeastern Pennsylvania and other clinics throughout the state, is seeing a significant return on its investment. There were 263 steps with the old process. Now, process steps have been reduced by 79 percent, and manual hands-on time has been cut by 82 percent. Meanwhile, labor costs associated with add-on processing have dropped by 85 percent.

Labor costs associated with add-on processing have dropped by 85 percent.

Turnaround time, which plays a critical role in treatment decisions, has also improved. Since implementing the Roche cobas® 8100 lab automation system, assays, including those for hematology, coagulation, chemistry, troponin and a basic metabolic panel, have achieved the 95th percentile in timing metrics.

In a previous interview with CAP TODAY,2 Myra Wilkerson, M.D., now chair for laboratory medicine at Geisinger Medical Laboratories, said, “We liked Roche’s times for immunoassays, in particular their troponins. Their turnaround time is only nine minutes, and that’s a really big deal with a stopping heart.”

In an era in which labs must run leaner operations in the face of lowered reimbursements, Geisinger Medical Laboratories is finding priceless gains in terms of efficiency, costs saved and increased medical value.

It’s time to redefine core possibilities

Now more than ever, hospitals and healthcare networks are seeking answers to meet the host of challenges facing them. Powered by seamless connectivity, standardized results, world-class automation and flexible solutions, core labs can deliver those answers faster, with greater efficiency and maximum clinical impact.

The advent of the connected core lab is here, and labs of all sizes can take advantage of the unprecedented possibilities it affords. When they do, they’ll find that they have the power and the flexibility to meet the demands of today and the needs of tomorrow while delivering greater medical value across their healthcare systems.

To learn more, visit https://usdiagnostics.roche.com/en/core_laboratory/automation.html

Sources:

  1. “Medical Laboratory Sciences,” Mayo Clinic of Health Sciences, May 9, 2017, http://www.mayo.edu/mayo-clinic-school-of-health-sciences/careers/laboratory-sciences (accessed August 22, 2017).
  2. Ford, Anne. (July 2015). “New lab, new efficiencies: doors open at Geisinger.” CAP TODAY. http://www.captodayonline.com/new-lab-new-efficiencies-doors-open-geisinger/ (accessed July 26, 2017).
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