The standardization debate: train the lab to execute or hire an expert for the job?

Contributing lab leaders:  Donna Beasley and Jeff Myers

The key to standardization success in any laboratory is to execute the initiative around a strong plan. Less set in stone, on the other hand, are the terms around which that execution should take place.

Most health systems will ultimately decide to tackle their standardization project in one of two ways: They'll rely on their own laboratory team to guide the process to the finish or they'll hire an outside agency to come in and do the job.

Which approach is right for your organization? Here's a look at the pros and cons of each according to two experienced and respected laboratory leaders.

Article highlights:
  • Successful execution of a laboratory standardization initiative requires careful planning and strong leadership.
  • Many health systems struggle to determine who should guide standardization: the laboratory team itself or outside experts brought in for the job.
  • Which approach is best depends on the organization's goals, structure and resources.

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A challenge with choices

First of all, says Jeff Myers, CPA, Vice President of Consulting for Accumen, consider how important it is for the standardization process to proceed efficiently and successfully. “Failure to execute," Myers notes, will “damage the confidence of not only the laboratory team, but the executive team," as well.

In his opinion, organizations that choose to have the lab lead the project should make sure that the team understands what it's getting into. “The challenge," he says, “is the teams and the expertise within the hospital—they're focused on patient care. It's difficult to bring people out and embark on a brand new initiative" that depends on factors unrelated to that focus, like logistics, IT infrastructure, and the politics that are often part of working with members of the C-suite.

Donna Beasley, MT(ASCP)DLM, a consultant with Huron Healthcare, agrees. And, she says, many organizations may wish to hire an outside expert for that reason. “From a knowledge perspective, what a consulting company would bring would be having done it before so many times, and the lessons learned" from that experience. Such an agency would also arrive “with a proven methodology that can be tweaked and customized" to fit your particular needs, she says. And the best consultants would work closely with the those in the lab, and not just attempt to take the project over. “The lab administrative director knows their lab better than anybody. So we're not coming in saying we know more than you do. We're just an extra set of hands—we're boots on the ground."

Ask the right questions

So are there situations where a laboratory team might take on standardization successfully without outside help? Myers, for his part, thinks that there are. “Both the lab leadership team as well as the executive team have to come together and determine, 'Okay, do we have the expertise to execute this one-and-a-half-year initiative? Do we have the bandwidth?'" If the answer to both questions is yes, he says, “there's nothing wrong with having a snap of the line, so to speak, and the organization doing it on their own."

In the end, Beasley says, the best option for many organizations may be to take a hybrid approach: Have the laboratory guide the standardization process, but also bring in some outside expertise and lean on their skills whenever it seems necessary. “From a consultant's perspective, I think what's very important is how the scope of work is defined," Beasley says. "Is the consultant coming in as an advisor? Is the consultant coming in as a leveraged partner? Or are they coming in as an embedded partner, side by side with you, to work with you through the [plan]?"

Determine the answers based on your organization's goals, structure, and resources, Beasley says, and you laboratory should find standardization success.

On defining the scope of work

Donna Beasley, DIM (ASCP)
Senior Director
Huron Consulting Group

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