No laboratory consolidation project can succeed without the support of a strong foundation. The complexity of a typical consolidation—from the logistical and technical elements of standardization to the challenges associated with budgeting and staffing— makes it critical that those who are leading the way take a carefully measured and purposeful approach.
Here's a look at what we believe are the five key steps to a consolidation that's made to last: baseline your operations, determine your service offerings, set your priorities, appoint a physician champion, and make your case to the C-suite.
Before you dive into the details of planning or make any decisions about standardization of testing, it's important to determine where you're at right now. Collect baseline data on your operations “so you understand what equipment is where, what systems are where, how many people are where," recommends Huron Healthcare consultant Donna Beasley, MT(ASCP)DLM. Later, with that information in hand, you'll be better prepared to make important decisions around key issues, like whether it makes sense to invest in new technologies or who should be hired for their consulting expertise.
Once you've established your baselines, it's time to decide what services you will offer. If, for example, your lab is part of a community hospital, ask: What are the main needs of the local patient population? Which services are most important to have on-site and which might be better handled by a larger chain laboratory? Consider breaking your offerings into two separate categories: testing that must be completed within four hours and testing that can wait four hours or more. Also keep in mind that any service you propose will likely be rejected if it isn't seen as valuable. Will it improve patient outcomes? Help with care efficiency? Lean toward those offerings with clear upside potential—the services you know the C-suite will embrace.
It's easy to get overwhelmed—and ultimately, swept away—by the sheer size and complexity of the typical consolidation project. For that reason, Michelle Barthel, MT(ASCP) MHA, System Director of Laboratory Services at Regional Health, says it's critical to establish a “clear direction and clear focus, and not have too many competing priorities." Pick your battles and invest your energy in your most important—and achievable—goals, Barthel notes. “If people have too much on their plate, it's very difficult to be successful."
Some consolidation projects stumble or fail because they don't include physicians in the planning process. Because the doctors who are working directly with patients will also be the ones placing orders for tests, it's important that you have them on your side from the start. You can do this by designating a “physician champion"—a clinician with a stake in your laboratory's success.
The last key step to consolidation involves securing buy-in from executives in the C- suite. This can be accomplished in part with assistance from your physician champion, who presumably can convey to budget-focused leaders how consolidation can improve care quality while reducing costs. Executives should understand how consolidation will generate revenue for the organization, as well as how it can improve operational efficiency. Most importantly, throughout the planning process, the leaders in the C-suite should recognize the specific needs and goals of the laboratory itself. If, for example, technology investments are required, executives should understand not only the costs, but why those technologies are critical to the lab's work.
Every laboratory consolidation is different and most will face challenges unique to their organization. No matter what your situation, however, these five simple steps will set you up for success.
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