Health systems around the world are transforming to meet the needs of the 21st century. Advanced healthcare information technologies, including electronic medical records (EMR), are being deployed to support connected health, patient-centered care, and preventive medicine while controlling ever-increasing costs.
Despite the fact that 70 percent of clinical decisions rely on pathology results, clinical laboratories are not usually central to healthcare transformation. Laboratories are also transforming, but it is often happening in isolation from the rest of the healthcare ecosystem, and with different objectives that are not necessarily aligned with or supportive of the overarching transformational agenda.
Although classified as providers of diagnostic services, laboratories are often seen as providing a backroom function. The focus of their transformation is generally to increase capacity and lower operational costs while maintaining quality. This is an understandable response to burgeoning demand for tests, the introduction of more-expensive tests, and shortages in critical skills. It also reflects a common misalignment between funding and the operational and strategic demands of laboratory services.
With minimal focus on clinical outcomes or overall healthcare system improvements, however, there is a danger that any laboratory transformation will not meet the needs of a 21st-century healthcare ecosystem. Connected health, patient-centered care, and preventive-medicine initiatives may be impacted as a result, and quality-of-care and cost-containment benefits may not be realized.
There is an increasing shift toward a “spend to save” approach within laboratories that risks forgoing impactful, transformational changes in favor of a short-term, tactical focus. A narrow focus on cutting the cost of laboratory services ignores the potential to create overall improvements and savings in healthcare. End-to-end information sharing, for example — not just of test requests and results, but also of test processes, treatment outcomes, and costs — can promote system-wide efficiencies and patient benefits.
At the moment, many healthcare and laboratory transformation strategies are out of alignment. There are enormous potential benefits — for patients, laboratories, and the overall effectiveness of healthcare systems — in bringing them together.