Streamlining laboratory workflows: Strategies for lab leaders

Labs play an essential role in patient diagnosis, with 70% of medical decisions being achieved with the help of lab tests, allowing clinicians to make timely decisions about disease diagnosis and tailored personalized therapeutic strategies.1 The importance of diagnostic testing became particularly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when healthcare providers needed to triage patients based on test results, deciding whether to admit patients or advise them to quarantine at home. 

Today, labs need to meet greater testing demands, improve efficiency, and provide reliable, high-quality results while at the same time facing problems of space limitations, a shortage of skilled employees, and reduced budgets. To overcome these challenges and improve performance, lab leaders can enhance their clinical laboratory workflow and laboratory processes by streamlining workflows through management systems and standardization, advanced digital technologies, and strategic workplace organization.2,3

By incorporating these lab improvement ideas, lab leaders can improve the productivity of personnel, reduce costs and timelines, and simultaneously deliver test results with faster turnaround times so doctors can make quicker and more efficient clinical decisions for patients.

Article highlights:
  • Labs play a critical role in helping physicians make decisions about treatment strategies.

  • Since labs are becoming more constrained due to workforce shortages and budgetary restrictions, lab leaders need to look toward streamlining services.

  • Incorporating management systems, digital technologies, and better workplace organization could help meet greater lab testing demands and improve performance.

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Implement principles of modern lab design

With the ever-growing price of real estate, hospital space can be challenging to obtain, especially room for medical labs. In a typical clinical lab workspace, there is a need for multiple pieces of equipment, lab benches to process and analyze samples, and a storage area for reagents. With such constraints, it can be challenging for lab personnel to operate safely and efficiently, causing a significant barrier to productivity.2,3

Another burden on labs is the shortage of medical and clinical lab technicians. As of 2020, there were 335,500 clinical laboratory technicians in the U.S. Over the next decade, the need for lab technicians will increase by 11%. The problem is that vacancy rates for these positions are skyrocketing significantly and as a result, there are not enough workers to meet the demand.4 According to the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science, this lack of personnel stems from the increase in the demand for lab services, more workforce retirement, and a decreased number of lab scientists and technician graduates as well as changes to lab practices due to technology.5

Furthermore, budget cuts continue to be a significant hurdle that labs are facing. As inflation increases, so do the costs of reagents and resources, like microscope slides, pipette tips, and gloves.6 Furthermore, cuts to reimbursement also remain an issue for lab leaders.7

Plagued by constraints, managers and directors need to find ways to streamline processes and achieve better allocation of resources and personnel so that they can deliver accurate and timely results for clinicians and patients.

The benefits of streamlining lab services and workflows include:2,8

  • Boosting productivity and efficiency
  • Decreasing personnel workload
  • Increasing employee morale
  • Reducing costs
  • Improving turnaround times
  • Expanding access to screening and diagnostic testing
How lab leaders can do more with less: Streamlining lab workflows

Lab leaders can employ several strategies to streamline services.

Managing resources

The role of lab leaders, like directors and managers, is to ensure that lab processes run smoothly and efficiently. One way to do this is through a Laboratory Quality Management System (QMS), a systematic and integrated infrastructure of activities designed to establish and control processes at all phases of the lab workflow.3 This approach helps manage resources and evaluate procedures. The World Health Organization is encouraging labs to implement QMS through its Laboratory QMS Training Toolkit, which covers training in all areas of lab infrastructure including facilities and safety, purchasing and inventory management, and process control.9 Adopting a Laboratory QMS is one of the first steps lab leaders can take to begin streamlining procedures.

Similarly, lab leaders need to incorporate standardized protocols for equipment, sample processing, and reporting results. By having a set procedure for each step – from receiving samples to data generation – lab leaders can minimize errors and deliver reliable results to patients and doctors.9

At-home diagnostic testing is also helping decrease the burden on labs. By utilizing saliva or blood spot testing, lab leaders can reduce the workload on employees as patients process and analyze their samples in their homes, receiving results immediately.10

Implementing digital technologies

If implemented correctly, digital technologies can transform labs by streamlining workflows. From cloud-based computing to connectivity software and data automation, lab managers can tap into these platforms to ensure that data and result reports are accurate and reliably delivered to physicians and patients.8

For example, cloud-based computing provides remote access to results, where clinicians and lab managers can share data across multiple labs safely and rapidly.8 This approach means lab personnel can focus on other tasks rather than spending time and resources sending test results outside the organization. Further, cloud-based computing improves collaboration, increasing access to information vital for healthcare crisis management,8 which was evident during the pandemic.

Another area that labs can leverage is the utilization of machine learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), to automate processes.11 Automation is the key to scale sample processing, analysis, and delivery of results. Implementing laboratory automation means that personnel can spend less time on manual, monotonous tasks and focus more on specialized operations.

Workspace organization

Adopting a lab layout that promotes collaboration and communication is another way labs can streamline procedures. Having an open space for personnel to work in strategically designated areas where samples can be quickly processed and analyzed helps reduce timelines and significantly improves efficiency and productivity through the parallelization and multi-tasking of processes.2,12 Furthermore, being mindful of lab setup is essential for employee safety.

Rapidly delivering reliable test results to improve outcomes

From screening infectious diseases to genetic testing for breast cancer, the demand for medical and clinical labs is more evident than ever before. As more stakeholders push for value-based solutions, delivering test results quickly and accurately to clinicians and patients is a major priority for healthcare organizations. 

While staff shortages, budget cuts, and workspace limitations continue to plague the industry, lab leaders can implement multiple strategies – from advanced management practices to digital technologies and workspace design – to streamline lab workflows and get results to patients faster and more efficiently. By streamlining processes and workflows, lab leaders can help improve clinical outcomes and ultimately patient care.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Information available from [Accessed December 2023]
  2. MultiLab. (2017). Article available from [Accessed December 2023]

  3. Christopher. (2018). Medical Laboratory Observer (MLO). Article available from [Accessed December 2023]

  4. Leber et al. (2022). J Clin Microbiol, 60, e00241-22. Paper available from [Accessed December 2023]

  5. The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science. (2018). Information available from [Accessed December 2023]

  6. Woolston. (2023). Nature. Article available from [Accessed December 2023]

  7. Ketchum. (2021). 360Dx. Article available from [Accessed December 2023]

  8. Roche. (2023). LabLeaders. Article available from [Accessed December 2023]

  9. World Health Organization (WHO). Information available from [Accessed December 2023]

  10. Drake. (2022). Healthline. Article available from [Accessed December 2023]

  11. Rabbani et al. (2022). Clin Biochem, 103, 1-7. Paper available from [Accessed December 2023]

  12. Durham & Hackman. (2020). Today’s Clinical Lab. Article available from [Accessed December 2023]