Contributing lab leader: Corinne Dive-Reclus
Resource constraints and increasing demand for faster, more accurate results mean labs are having to do more with less. Every day, we work together with leaders from labs around the world to understand their daily operational challenges and to find the latest digital technologies that can help resolve them. Tech and healthcare players are creating digital open ecosystems - connected, secure yet open platforms that make it easier for labs to access the latest digital technologies they need to improve operational excellence, drive efficiencies, and generate the meaningful clinical data insights that can help improve patient care.
As labs play an increasingly visible and critical role in the overall performance of modern healthcare systems, there are a number of key ways in which digital solutions can relieve the mounting pressures they are facing. Specifically, digital tools can:
In this article, I have highlighted real life examples of the types of digital solutions that have been implemented in different organizations across the world and the range of benefits labs have experienced in terms of productivity, efficiency and performance.
LACE Laboratories in Argentina processes samples from 2,600 patients daily and reports more than 90% of its test results online in 24 hours.4 But it was relying on complex statistics, prior knowledge and good practice from professionals to make key decisions, including how to redeploy staff.5
The lab took a series of actions to improve processes and to obtain the data required in order to quantitatively evaluate decisions. As a result, the team increased auto validation in key areas, such as endocrinology, significantly reducing the volume of manually-validated tests. The team also used an analytics solution to identify when most data were being entered manually.5
The team was able to improve the flow of activities and turnaround time (TAT) samples without hiring new staff members and without having to ask staff to work overtime.5
The Department of Laboratory Medicine at the New Taipei Municipal Tucheng Hospital in Taiwan processes 1,600 tubes every day. It offers more than 160 different tests and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In an effort to optimize laboratory performance, the Lab Director started to monitor and improve performance on the delivery of tests for urgent outpatient samples.6
The team used a digital analytic tool to establish a baseline of the current performance on the sample turnaround time (STAT) for (urgent) outpatients, to establish an acceptable TAT that the lab would work towards, and to identify bottlenecks in the operational process.6
By utilizing the data collected by the digital analytic tool, the lab was able to identify inefficiencies at the sample collection and transportation stages. The lab has been able to reduce these bottlenecks and achieve a significant decrease in their STAT.6
As of 2022 Burjeel Holdings consisted of 16 hospitals with 4.9 million recorded patient visits.7 Such a high volume of patients and tests meant the operational efficiency, testing capacity and quality of Burjeel Holdings needs to be at the highest standards.
But manual processes, including the identification of samples and entry of data into the local Laboratory Information System (LIS), were leading to high full time employee (FTE) costs, were error prone, and were also resulting in longer TATs. The hospital leadership urgently needed a solution and were keen to digitalize their processes, starting with laboratory sample management.8
The team moved to a digital solution that enabled advanced end-to-end sample management with a high degree of interoperability and data aggregation. This allowed the team to implement multi-site integration as well as the consolidation of care across three of their hospitals.8
Burjeel Holdings has been able to:8
The Doctors Laboratory (TDL), a large medically led laboratory providing quality accredited pathology services to the UK and worldwide, provides a point of care testing (POCT) service to over 70 hospitals producing over 200,000 tests per year.9,10 TDL wanted to reduce the amount of device errors and make its POCT devices more readily available. TDL was used to monitor the devices for any issues retrospectively and often had to rely on staff to troubleshoot and take corrective action.11
The team was clear that it wanted to increase the uptime and availability of their POC devices. The lab used an advanced analytics solution to proactively monitor the issue status of devices. It also fitted a dashboard that collated data on device hardware errors that could result in more significant uptime of the devices. This allowed the team to minimize the frequency of clinical users needing to report device problems. It has also centralized processes and enabled organizations to reduce the amount of device errors and make point of care devices more readily available.2,11
The team is able to collect data from the dashboard that ranks devices with the most issues and their error descriptions by site and issue category so that action can be taken before issues become more significant. The total number of device errors were reduced by a third in just three months.11 Not only that, but by having the devices more readily available and having more testing, they were able to increase productivity by a third in that same time frame.2,11
Embracing digital technologies in laboratories through automation, streamlined workflows, robust data management, and immersive visualization techniques, can unleash increased levels of effectiveness and efficiency. By harnessing the power of digital technologies, labs can reduce staff burden, improve TATs, streamline workflows, and reduce errors, supporting increased lab efficiency, and as a result, improved patient outcomes.
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