Laboratory consolidation is rarely straightforward: There are a lot of moving parts that must come together in order for such a project to even get off the ground. One of the biggest challenges, however, is in the realm of technology. If your IT department isn't on the same page as the laboratory leaders who are driving your consolidation efforts, it may wind up holding you back.
IT is a big piece of the consolidation puzzle, explains Eyas Hattab, MD, MBA, Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and the A.J. Miller Endowed Chair in Pathology at the University of Louisville. But there's a fine line between securing the technologies and services you need and hitting IT-related roadblocks that aren't in the plans. “IT can either go really well, or it could trump your success in such an endeavor."
Here are a few tips from Hattab and others around how your tech colleagues can help your consolidation project—and the big IT pitfalls you should strive to avoid.
One of your most important IT investments will likely involve your laboratory information system (LIS), says Myra Wilkerson, MD, FCAP, Chair of the Division of Laboratory Medicine for the Geisinger Health System in Danville, PA. “Especially if you're bringing in a lot of different labs together with different LIS vendors, different middleware products, different interfaces, different instruments—bringing them into a common LIS is absolutely critical from an administrative point of view." Beyond that, says Michelle Barthel, MT(ASCP) MHA, System Director of Laboratory Services at Regional Health in Rapid City, SD, you should also consider the tech side of billing: “If you don't have a good billing system, you're not going to get very far."
So is there a “right way" to collaborate with IT? There is, says Huron Healthcare consultant Donna Beasley, MT(ASCP)DLM, and it's mostly about stepping up and taking charge. “IT cannot set the prioritization [of projects]," Beasley notes. “They cannot affect the timeline. You have to help guide [them] as to what are the top priorities and why, what is going to bring the biggest benefit to the health system."
In the successful consolidation initiatives she's worked on, Beasley says, one way they've achieved this is with justification forms. Laboratory leaders, she explains, use the forms to clearly lay out what needs to happen and why, and everything listed includes a deadline for completion. “Then you have senior leadership and those involved on the consolidation team helping to prioritize for IT what needs to be done. It's very impactful. I've seen it done at a very large academic health system and it made all the difference in the world."
Hattab agrees with Beasley, noting it's important to “align your expectations" with the IT team. “You have to be assertive and say, 'This is what we need in the laboratory. These are our own priorities.'" Resist the urge to name specific vendors or specific solutions, Hattab recommends, and instead let them know what the technology has to accomplish. “Make them understand why you need certain features, what functionalities are most important to you." Conversations like that, he says, should lead to real progress—and help your consolidation project start off on the right foot.
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