In The Critical Importance of Outreach, we introduced the topic of lab outreach and how critically important it is to population health. Now, we’ll look closely at the rich opportunity outpatient outreach presents and how labs can best embrace it.
Let’s start where we left off, by examining in greater detail why a culture change inside the lab is a necessary prerequisite to successful outreach.
When hospital labs extend their services to outpatient practices, it can feel a little like encountering a whole new culture. Laboratorians who had been focused exclusively on inpatient and hospital work may find themselves confused and uncertain. Many may question why outreach is even necessary. This fundamental resistance must be countered if outreach is to be successful.
People who are set in their ways can still be convinced … but you have to find the right people.
Start with those most amenable to change. Explain how, because of outreach, community physicians and their patients are now the lab’s customers. Accordingly, everyone at the lab must adopt a customer service mentality in everything they do.
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The culture shift needs to extend all the way up to the C-suite. As touched upon in The Critical Importance of Lab Outreach, margins for outpatient services will be smaller than those for inpatient. Payers will demand rates consistent with their national lab fee schedules. Your expectations should therefore be realistic.
Of course, profit can be made. But the true value in outpatient outreach lies in greater control of post-discharge testing and consistency of patient data—with the ensuing benefits both can bring to population health management.
A dedicated business infrastructure is indispensable to successful outpatient outreach. This should include processes and personnel to:
Handle a higher volume of incoming phone calls
Answer customer questions
Move specimens efficiently through the lab
Meet ongoing client service demands
Support a solid courier system
Fulfill pre- and post-analytical needs
Set fee structures consistent with outpatient reimbursement realities
Bill customers accurately and on a timely basis
IT infrastructure is especially important, as there is a critical need to prioritize interfacing with multiple physician offices. Likewise, labs must seamlessly integrate data from disparate electronic medical records (EMRs). To ensure these outreach needs receive their proper due, your lab must be able to exert control over IT priorities.
Outreach culture will start to come alive in your lab once you have the right person and the right plan in place.
The person is your lab outreach manager, who will take charge of the project and own all aspects of it. That person should have:
Strong lab business acumen
Solid relationships with multiple community physicians
Skills to develop those physicians into customers
An understanding of the finer details of outreach management
The plan is the scope of your startup. How many practices are you going to target for outreach? What amount of resources will you allocate to the effort? You don’t have to overreach; a modest start is a perfectly viable option.
Target a select group of community physicians with whom you already have strong relationships. Utilize existing capacity within your lab to begin serving their needs. Understand you’re going to make mistakes: allow them to happen, learn from them, and then keep moving forward.
Outreach marketing is an extensive topic covered in a LabLeaders Webinar Series presentation by the Huntsville Hospital outreach team. Now, we would like to draw your attention to two of the most authentic marketers in your lab: your couriers and phlebotomists.
Couriers interact with community physicians and their staff every day. They know before anyone else what the buzz is inside a practice. Is the practice considering a new EMR? Are they unhappy with service they’re getting from another lab? Your couriers transit more than just specimens and test results: they convey key strategic information that can strengthen your outreach efforts. And they represent your lab on a daily basis—so make sure they’re up to the task.
Phlebotomists too, whether they’re located in patient service centers or physician’s offices, have their fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in the community. Coach them well and rely on them to keep you connected.
Our Lab Leaders stress the urgency of embarking on outpatient outreach sooner rather than later. Initiating the necessary cultural changes may seem daunting today, but can be richly rewarding tomorrow when you have the expanded data sets in hand to drive better outcomes for patient populations.
Customer service and its importance in the clinical laboratory
By Victoria L. Anderson, BS, MT (ASCP)
This article provides a detailed overview of what lab customer service is, why it’s important, and ideas on how to implement it.
Laboratory outreach couriers: selection and implementation
By Jane M. Hermansen, MBA MT (ASCP) and Charlene H. Harris, FACHE, MT (ASCP)
This article details the advantages of integrating pathology and radiology data to improve the quality of diagnoses and overall patient care.