Ask 10 different leaders from 10 healthcare systems how they went about consolidating their laboratories and you'll likely get 10 different answers. The fact is, for every type of institution and lab in the industry, the definition of consolidatio and its implementation—varies dramatically. “Laboratory consolidation means many different things to different people," notes Eyas Hattab, MD, MBA, Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and the A.J. Miller Endowed Chair in Pathology at the University of Louisville. “It is probably not a one-size-fits-all solution."
A laboratory consolidation initiative at a community health system, for example, is unlikely to unfold in the same way as it would at a large academic medical center, Hattab explains. That's largely because every institution has its own strategic goals, its own patient population and market, and its own unique array of medical professionals and staff. Therefore, Hattab says, any consolidation plan should be highly customized “to meet the needs and the demands" of the particular organization.
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.
Here, Hattab and fellow Roche lab leader Michelle Barthel, MT(ASCP), MHA, System Director of Laboratory Services at Regional Health in Rapid City, South Dakota, offer their thoughts on how to choose a consolidation strategy that works for you.
So where to start? Both Hattab and Barthel recommend beginning with in-depth talks with your lab employees. “It's really the brain drain that I worry about," Hattab says. If you embark on a laboratory consolidation without engaging staff early in the process and “asking them what their priorities are," you risk losing them down the road, he says.
Barthel agrees: Every person in your laboratory, she says—lab assistants, phlebotomists, medical technologists, and laboratory scientists—should understand what their role is in creating the strategic plan. In her own healthcare system, Barthel notes, every market had its own president, and those individual lab leaders worried that consolidation would result in revenue losses for their divisions. “And so in order to get their buy-in, I had to show what value the service-line model was creating and meet with them on a regular basis."
The most successful consolidation plans are designed in part to meet the needs of executives in the C-suite. Therefore, Hattab and Barthel say, it's important to demonstrate how you intend to further those things they care about most, including better patient care, greater efficiency, and improved operating margins. “Alignment of vision between the organization leadership [and] the laboratory leadership is exceptionally important," says Hattab. Toward that end, aim to communicate regularly with those executives and with the physician leaders who may have their ears. “Make sure you have a seat at the table in interdisciplinary meetings," Barthel adds. “It's important to have your lab team sitting on committees with other departments...so that they are seen, and to continually report out to leadership on your success and the progress that you're making."
In the end, Barthel says, if you have the support of your entire laboratory team, establish a clear list of attainable objectives, and ensure that your vision will further the goals of your institution as a whole, you're going to choose the right consolidation strategy. And even better? Chances are, you're going to succeed.
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