How Modern Laboratory Information Systems Can Protect Against External Threats Like Labor Shortages
November 11, 2022
(This is part three of a series focused on laboratory staffing challenges and how to overcome them).
Welcome to part three of our blog series on overcoming today’s laboratory staffing challenges. For this informative series, we interviewed three experts in their respective fields to bring to you practical, first-hand advice on scaling and growing your laboratory practice despite an industry-wide shortage of qualified medical lab technologists.
For part one of our series, we sat down with Dr. James Crawford, Senior Vice President for Laboratory Services at Northwell Health, who shared his point of view on recruitment, compensation, career advancement, and process improvements. In part two of the series, Bri Spencer, Molecular Lab Manager at Avero Diagnostics, shared insights into how labs can utilize innovative new technologies to automate redundant manual processes, streamline workflows and improve the quality of service. For the third and final chapter in our series, we turned to Joseph Guido, an anatomic pathology lab consultant and former Director of IT, who discussed the growing importance of digital pathology in the lab world.
Why Laboratory Management is Under Pressure
There is no denying that the pandemic’s wiles wrought havoc on most industries’ operations. Along with its damaging impact, it also highlighted something very important, and that’s how critical it is for organizations to be able to access and share information from anywhere at any time. This is especially true for those working in healthcare, particularly laboratory professionals.
For labs, the global pandemic elevated the need for remote, digital-first collaboration. Even when staff cannot make it into the lab, the work must continue. Physicians and patients need fast, reliable diagnostic test results regardless of the situation. They are the vital component of the great majority of healthcare decisions.
Approximately 70% of today’s medical decisions are based on lab test results. However, producing these results quickly and accurately is becoming an increasingly difficult endeavor. That’s because an ever-growing number of patients and available assays has created a perfect storm of more specimens headed to the lab from one year to the next. Adding pressure to an already stressed industry is the fact that staffing numbers aren’t keeping up with the rising test demand. Some estimate that the industry is short 20,000 to 25,000 laboratory technologists.
Modern LIS Solutions to Relieve Laboratory Staffing Stress
When asked about the current industry hiring and staffing crisis, Guido explained that a long-term solution to the problem can be found in the form of advancing laboratory technology.
“Implementing the right technology is the best way for labs to streamline their operations,” he said. “From the preanalytical phase, all the way through to post-analytical, a modern laboratory information system (LIS) can help lab managers fill the gaps created by staffing shortages.”
Simply stated, a LIS is a laboratory technology solution that is designed to remove bottlenecks, organize data, and improve core processes like specimen tracking and case/test processing and reporting. Some of the more modern LISs also offer outreach solutions, billing management, and patient engagement applications. These systems are supported by rules and automation, creating a new level of efficiency that cannot be attained with labor-intensive workflows.
The Laboratory of the Future will be Driven by Modern Lab Management Software
Before moving into the consulting world, Guido spent several years with a pathology group in Colorado, where he started as an accessioner, then moved into grossing, before ultimately becoming the group’s IT Director. As he climbed the ladder and moved into management, Guido took it upon himself to understand the technology behind the group’s LIS system. He sensed there was a lot of power behind the system that wasn’t being utilized at the time and took it upon himself to learn more.
His curiosity led to an ongoing dialogue between himself and the group’s laboratory information system partner, LigoLab Information Systems. Soon thereafter, Guido was spearheading the implementation of workflow changes that he believes played a role in the group’s business growth, helping to solidify pathologist relationships with both physician and hospital clients.
According to Guido, technology is the long-term solution to the current staffing challenges that all anatomic pathology groups and clinical laboratories (including molecular testing labs) face.
“The gaps that exist in the workforce make it very clear that the lab of the future will be driven by technological advances,” he said. “At some point soon, automation will be a tool that we all use, no matter the department, or the role.”
Removing Redundant, Manual Processes with LIS Automation
With a focus on anatomic pathology, Guido noted that changes are already evident and that more are to come, born out of necessity and innovation. He pointed toward using EMRs/EHRs and patient engagement/patient portal platforms as vehicles that have effectively replaced manual order entry and drastically improved the integrity of the data going into modern LIS systems.
Guido said consistent data going into the system is a big first step and that the architecture and flexibility of the LIS are critically important at this stage.
“With the right LIS, you can set up a validation step based on rules at accessioning. This opens the door to customization and client preferences, with the accessioner taking on a quality assurance role before sending the specimen to grossing.”
Guido also put forward other examples where technology has replaced or minimized other manual lab roles. His examples included LIS integrations to support the automated embedding of specimens and voice-to-text systems that allow for the repurposing of transcriptionists. He also referenced digital pathology.
Adding Digital Pathology to Anatomic Pathology Workflows
Guido is currently consulting an anatomic pathology group that’s gone entirely digital, thus enabling the group to have pathologists in every time zone and even on multiple continents. He said the key to this arrangement, and others like it, is having a laboratory information management system that excels in interoperability and integrates with a digital pathology system while fully supporting that system’s workflow.
“When a lab’s processes become digitized, and its systems become interoperable and connected within an integrated workflow, several manual processes can be removed from the equation,” said Guido. “This helps eliminate inefficiencies and redundancies and it improves a lab’s quality of work. A highly functional LIS system is what makes this possible.”
Guido said the LIS system should serve as the centerpiece of a digital pathology ecosystem, with this arrangement offering many advantages, including:
- More precise interpretations
- Faster diagnoses
- Improved collaboration
- Fewer human errors
- Less costly over time
Technical Knowledge and LIS Vendor Support are Must-Haves
“This is the future five to 10 years from now. This is where we’ll see the most advancement in anatomic pathology,” added Guido.
For anatomic pathology labs to ensure their future viability as their testing discipline goes through this metamorphosis, hiring tech-friendly personnel will take on even more importance.
“One of the biggest areas of concern is the shortage of technology leaders that understand how the technology within the lab works,” he said. “Labs need to hire these types of roles or create an ecosystem where current staff can be developed to fill critical roles like that of the LIS manager.”
Guido added that deploying a laboratory information system that the software vendor supports with ongoing training will also have lasting benefits.
“Most often, the limiting factors are how well laboratory personnel understand the software, how well the laboratory has designed its workflow, and how much the software is supported by the vendor that the lab has partnered with.”
With the LigoLab LIS & RCM Laboratory Operating Platform and other like-minded vendors with modern LIS systems, lab managers can build their digital pathology capabilities from a solid foundation while gaining an ally in their fight against staffing shortages.
How LigoLab Operating Platform Supports Digital Pathology
“An ideal digital pathology ecosystem is one where all of a lab’s systems are interoperable, connecting as an integrated digital workflow,” said Guido.
LigoLab was an early adopter of integrating digital pathology solutions, knowing that benefits like efficiency gains, better and faster case allocation, and improved scalability would ensure the future development of this subspecialty.
For a closer look at how the LigoLab Operating Platform integrates with whole slide imaging (WSI) systems like the Philips Imaging Management System (IMS) viewer, check out this informative tutorial.
Lastly, if you are interested in speaking with a LigoLab Product Specialist to learn how the platform can help protect your lab from external threats while also preparing it for what the future holds, feel free to contact us HERE.
LigoLab is an award-winning provider of innovative end-to-end healthcare software for pathology laboratories, servicing 150+ facilities nationwide. As a comprehensive enterprise-grade solution, the LigoLab LIS & RCM Laboratory Operating Platform™ includes modules for anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, molecular diagnostics, revenue cycle management, and direct-to-consumer, all on one powerful and integrated platform that supports every role, every department, and every case. LigoLab empowers laboratories to better serve patients, differentiate themselves in the marketplace, scale their operations and become more compliant and more profitable.