4 ways the lab can bridge the gap for multidisciplinary integration

The healthcare industry's shift toward improved care coordination and value-based reimbursement is putting demands on lab services to become better integrated with the rest of the care team, both within the hospital and across the healthcare network. A fully integrated lab can go far beyond collecting samples and reporting results to be an active partner in improving care and reducing costs and as a result, can help to build a multidisciplinary approach to patient care.

Here, lab leaders from some of the nation's top institutions share innovative ways to bring lab services beyond their traditional boundaries, start building a multidisciplinary healthcare team and start focusing on patient-centered care across their healthcare facilities.

Article highlights:
  • Labs should provide context and interpretive services, not just results.
  • Lab staff can lend insight to the development of analytic tools.
  • Lab leaders can gain insight by shadowing clinicians.

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1. Provide interpretive services to healthcare professionals

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, has diagnostic management teams (DMTs) that include lab staff who work with clinicians to identify a given diagnosis or track the effectiveness of treatment. "We can provide value in the laboratory by going beyond just throwing [physicians] a result," said James Nichols, Medical Director, Clinical Chemistry and Point of Care (POC) testing, at Vanderbilt. "We can provide that interpretation and then help the physician better manage their patient." For example, the lab might perform multiple studies to determine not only whether a patient is anemic, but whether the symptoms are caused by hemoglobin abnormalities, sickle cell disease, or an iron deficiency, and give the care team a comprehensive analytical report.

Providing healthcare professionals with a fully comprehensive analytical report will not only influence the way patients are treated but can lead to improved patient outcomes.

On a total interpretive service

James Nichols, PhD, DABCC, FACB
Medical Director, Clinical Chemistry
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

2. Shadow the customers

"Laboratory leaders and staff can provide better service when they step out of the lab to understand better what their colleagues do all day", said Paula Santrach, M.D., Associate Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, and Chief Quality Officer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "One of the most important things I did in my career was to partner with surgeons and anesthesiologists on a research study and spend three months in the operating room," she said. "It's amazing how that can really build relationships with people, and then they listen to you and request your input." Santrach also headed a task force on converting the clinic to digital radiology. "I was the only person around the table who had no vested interest in looking at images," she said. "I spent a lot of time watching their processes and how they do their work... That was an invaluable experience for me and opened up the door for a lot of other opportunities."

Understanding all the different disciplines that are involved in treatment planning and treating patients is one of the first steps to defining a multidisciplinary approach.

3. Get to know IT

"The laboratory is producing vast quantities of data that go into a typical EMR or EHR, and with all that data, there's the need to be able to extract relevant parts of it in order to make data-driven decisions about care, about processes, about what you're going to do within your organization to manage the care of your patient population," said Steven Zibrat, Manager, Laboratories Quality Improvement at the University of Chicago Medicine. Those who don't work in a lab can have a difficult time interpreting lab data and seeing how it fits into the bigger picture and how it influences the decision-making process. Zibrat recommends labs assign one of their own to work with IT to help build analytical models. "Without that person, without those tools, we're just sitting on top of a gold mine trying to chip away at it with a toothpick."

On interpreting the information

Steven Zibrat, MS, MT(ASCP)
Manager of Laboratories Quality
University of Chicago Medical Center

4. Participate in developing best practices to improve patient outcomes

At Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., lab staff have been instrumental in helping reduce the likelihood that post-surgical patients will need blood transfusions, said Diana Kremitske, Vice President of Laboratory Operations. A lab-affiliated RN meets with both the patient and the surgeon prior to surgery to work out a comprehensive care plan that reduces the risk of post-operative anemia. This participation is built into Geisinger's "proven care" models for orthopedic surgeries and has reduced patients' length of stay and their risk for complications from transfusions. Ultimately this development of a multidisciplinary team has improved both patient satisfaction and patient outcomes, but it also decreases healthcare costs. "It's a real value-added thing on the inpatient side, and we're starting to migrate that clinical know-how to the outpatient side," Kremitske said.

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