As today’s U.S. healthcare system undergoes rapid and dramatic transformations, lab leaders are faced with an unprecedented number of challenges. Beyond providing essential quality, they are forced to demonstrate value by cutting costs, empowering consumers, and streamlining operations in the face of consolidation.
Many of these initiatives go far beyond standard clinical practice. “We are basically on a new frontier,” says Jay Jones, Ph.D., DABCC from Geisinger Health System. “Not only is there change happening now, but there is new change happening on top of that change.”
However, the challenges of this new climate bring amazing opportunity. The door is now open to a new breed of lab leader—one who continuously redefines the value of the lab. Successfully navigating change empowers labs of all shapes and sizes to differentiate and thrive like never before.
It is important that we get our houses in order to demonstrate how we clearly add value to healthcare. The degree to which we do this determines how well we are positioned against competitive threats, whether from internal perceptions or outside labs.
Director of Molecular Pathology
Carolinas Pathology Group, Atrium Health, Carolinas HealthCare System
Because a great deal of expertise is needed to achieve this, the "Take the Lead" series is the essential partner for lab leaders of today to recognize modern challenges and deliver truly modern solutions.
Here is an introduction to the things you can do to lead your lab forward.
Providing ongoing value requires lab leaders to see the role of the lab differently than before. Simply running a lab is no longer enough. To maintain and even boost relevance, lab leaders are in a critical position to advance thinking. The focus is no longer solely on the lab itself, but is elevated to how the lab impacts value on the organizational level. Mike Snyder, principal of Clinical Lab Business Solutions, believes it takes a leader "with a mindset to move forward, to consider quality, metrics, and how to reintegrate back into the whole of medicine." By seeing the lab as part of a greater system, lab leaders can optimize the lab for a new wave of success.
One of the essentials for modern lab leaders is to partner with the C-suite to establish value on a higher level. But in order to gain stature with these executives, lab leaders need to provide more than analytical and scientific expertise. They need to speak the language of the C-suite. This means less techno-speak and more business-speak.
Being able to communicate in this fashion is key to translating how the lab adds fundamental value to the organization.
The strategic high ground for the laboratory is to be embraced as a valuable partner in the development of more effective, more efficient care models. It is earned by being recognized as an indispensable part of the value system. Once you start to demonstrate value, hospital administration will start to recognize and regard your contributions.
Getting this "seat at the table" is perhaps the biggest imperative for every lab leader, as it affords exceptional visibility and influence on organizational matters.
If you are at the table, you can recognize what matters most to your health system. If you are moving quickly to value, you can plan your initiatives and investments accordingly.
President and CEO
AMGA: Advancing High Performance Health
The drawbacks of not being at the table are significant. Leadership consultant, Kathy Allen, Ph.D., from Allen & Associates Management Consulting, notes that if you are not present, "it is very easy for people to make a decision that has an unintended negative consequence for your lab."
To create positive change, lab leaders must first recognize that yesterday’s siloed, hierarchical leadership style aligns poorly with today’s integrated care models. Modern lab leaders need to facilitate collaboration by owning knowledge as a resource. By providing particular clinical and business savvy, the laboratorian becomes an invaluable partner in optimizing care and organizational value.
In a system that no longer tolerates inefficiency, leveraging your knowledge and expertise is a pivotal way to stand apart.
In an environment where providers are competing for fewer dollars, it is vital for today’s lab leaders to own their financial profits and losses. Lab administrators commonly believe that the Finance department is solely responsible to manage their finances. This is a highly outdated principle. The financial viability of the lab ultimately falls on the lab administrator.
Business acumen is absolutely essential to guiding the lab through the changing maze of regulations that we are facing each and every year. We must do a better job of educating scientists to be equipped with the financial acumen to manage finances and run the lab like a business.
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
In order for labs to prosper in a new value system, lab leaders have to think beyond clinical practice and understand the financial implications of their business.
To demonstrate added value, lab leaders need to expand their role and build relationships with colleagues in other departments. This model runs counter to how lab leaders have traditionally conducted themselves. “It takes getting outside the four walls of that laboratory—and that’s something that we just have to do,” says Wilson. “It is hard for us. We are introverts by nature but we have to get out there and do it.” If done effectively though, lab leaders are in a better position to promote their exclusive lab value offerings. This is a key step for each to become recognized as a vital asset throughout the organization.
Through all this change, there is one constant— nearly every diagnosis, therapy, and clinical initiative requires lab data, lab expertise, and lab involvement.
To own and deliver superior lab performance in today’s healthcare system requires a new breed of lab leader. These clinical-business entrepreneurs impact change both inside the lab and beyond it. By evolving value propositions, they are evolving the essence of what a lab can offer.
It is time to redefine the value of the lab.
It is time to redefine the value of lab leaders.