Every year, laboratory and pathology leaders from across the world make the pilgrimage to the Executive War College, the premier clinical laboratory management conference to stay on top of the constantly evolving landscape of laboratory medicine. This year, Honeydew Consulting had the honor of presenting on how to have a successful Beaker implementation (the most highly attended session during its timeslot).
Not only did we have the opportunity to network with top lab leaders, but we also were given a preview of the evolving future of laboratory medicine, and how that may impact past, present, and future Beaker clients.
Lean/Automation is the Future of Labs
During “The Great Resignation,” most industries nationwide saw a massive reduction of employees, including medical laboratories. Over 50% of laboratories are struggling to staff all shifts, and over 80% struggle to staff night shifts.
This has required laboratories to stretch what few available resources they have to continue to operate their labs at full capacity. This was especially critical given how COVID testing was in high demand, on top of the current demand for other essential lab testing.
To address this shortage of staff, laboratories across the nation have been shifting towards creating lean labs through process standardization and automation across their organization. This has helped labs operate at a significantly more efficient rate, as evident by the 111% increase in volume post pandemic despite workforce losses.
With the shift of laboratories towards streamlined workflows and less manual processes, we expect to see new and improved automated solutions being installed in laboratories installing and utilizing Beaker in the near future.
Healthcare Trends that Impact Lab
For years, healthcare has gradually been driven by the consumers, with an emphasis on mobility (mobile clinics), convenience (telemedicine), personalization (personalized diet based on allergen testing), and transparency (23andMe genetic testing). The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated these existing trends, leading many medical services, including laboratories, to adapt to this new reality:
- As mentioned above, laboratories have rapidly embraced automated solutions to help keep up with their workload despite the reduced workforce.
- Labs Services At Home
- At-home kits have been around for a while (wellness testing, allergen testing etc), but the COVID pandemic has led to a surge in giving consumers the ability to test and result their own COVID tests in the comfort of their own homes. This increase in self-testing kits has helped improve COVID testing capabilities across the US, along with relieve some pressure off of laboratories.
- Shifting of Services from Hospitals to Retail
- Retail services are starting to enter into the healthcare market, slowly looking to replace aspects of hospital systems as the primary care clinics of many consumers:
- These retail services generally have a large presence in areas where access to hospitals tend to be difficult (such as the Midwest or Mountain regions). As such, we are noticing that these locations will need the ability to rapidly perform lab tests on top of providing primary care services.
- Smaller, More Agile Lab Solutions
- With the increased need of laboratory services in areas that normally do not have access to a CAP certified lab (such as retail clinics), companies such as Truvian have been looking to disrupt the blood diagnostic industry with more compact and robust testing solutions. This may raise some concerns for most standing clinical labs with the decentralization of the most commonly run tests, but this also means that there are opportunities for them to pivot their services towards more specialized testing.
With the shift of lab services going from clinical laboratories into consumer homes and retail centers, we could be seeing a shift in lab compendiums towards more specialized testing over common blood tests. With the shift of lab services going from clinical laboratories into consumer homes and retail centers, we could be seeing a shift in lab compendiums towards more specialized testing over common blood tests. This could mean that we will see a rise in more complex resulting and reflex actions required.
Machine Learning and AI
The growth of artificial intelligence has led healthcare industries to have a greater impact on population health, clinical trials, and clinical decision support. Laboratories are no exception to this rule.
Labs are currently looking to use predictive modeling to identify potential productivity and burnout/turnover of employees to help with staffing, along with potential future lab values, which can allow for proactive intervention for high risk individuals.
Organizations like Labcorp has gone as far as deploying AI and machine learning solutions across multiple services. For example, Labcorp has started using AI to help with correcting and autoverifying insurance information to further streamline the patient experience when they come to visit draw sites.
As AI technology starts to grow in the laboratory space, we will start seeing more vendors offering such services interface with Beaker. That being said, chances are AI workflows will not affect Beaker as much as the brunt of the work will likely be performed in the third party system, and resulted back to Beaker. However, it is important for Beaker consultants to become familiar with Epic reporting solutions to be able to address and support any predictive analytics initiatives that may eventually come down to the lab.
The idea of digital pathology has been around for quite some time, and has only become more robust due to improving technology and storage space to digitize slides.
The ability to digitizing slides have many advantages:
- Easier telepathology/teleconsulting capabilities
- Improved slide readability
- Easier access to past slides from same patient or similar cases for comparison and review
- Ability to annotate areas on slides for teaching and research
In addition, digitized slides means that we now have the capability to utilize AI to help count structures, classifying conditions of cells, or even feature detection previously performed manually by pathologists. However, this does not mean that AI is going to replace pathologists, but rather enhance their efficiency. Pathologists are still necessary to review and validate the data to provide an accurate diagnosis, albeit with digital pathology, at a much quicker turnaround time than before.
As Beaker has the functionality to support digital pathology, we will continue seeing an increase in Beaker clients looking towards digital pathology as both a clinical and educational solution for their organization.
Executive War College was an opportunity for Honeydew to get a glimpse into the future of the clinical laboratory, and help prepare us for the changes that will not only affect the landscape of lab services, but also our past, present and future clients.
If you have any questions, reach out to us at [email protected].