How to Turn an Economic Downturn into an Opportunity for Your Clinical and Pathology Laboratory
May 1, 2023
Let’s face it. Running a successful and profitable clinical and pathology laboratory during an economic downturn is fraught with challenges.
How many times in recent months have you heard the word “recession?” I’m guessing plenty. Undoubtedly, it’s been tossed about during conversations with your industry colleagues as you collectively do your best to move past the pandemic and its ripple effects.
The plain truth is that these are uncertain times. Persistent inflation, continued supply chain disruptions, and a growing disparity of jobs versus qualified medical technologists to fill them, all this is taking a heavy toll on laboratory medicine.
It should be noted that other businesses and industries aren’t immune to this pressure. In fact, by examining how other businesses effectively weather economic downturns, lessons can be learned and best practices can be identified. Both can help your laboratory navigate a stalled economy and prepare for the good times ahead.
The Importance of Innovation During Times of Turbulence
Admittedly, economic downturns don’t affect healthcare in the same manner as other industries. Healthcare is an essential service that people need regardless of the current state of the economy. If you’re sick, you go to the doctor for help. Most people also have health insurance that helps to cover unexpected costs related to medical care.
Still, at the end of the day, consumer sentiment is affected by an economic downturn, even in healthcare. When times are turbulent, consumer confidence wanes, and behavior changes.
Typically during a downturn in the economy, non-essential businesses are faced with a decrease in demand for their products or services and an increase in competition to retain and grow their customer base. When such conditions exist, keeping costs under control is critically important. The best business leaders understand this and operate accordingly.
Without fail, these businesses can stay competitive and offer more value to their customers without an increase in spending by focusing on new ways to improve internal operations.
Innovation and automation are the keys, no matter the business.
Now let's look at some examples of how innovation can arm your clinical laboratory or pathology group with the lessons and the tools needed for continued growth and profitability despite turbulent times.
Bolster the Lab’s Pathology Management Software
When was the last time you thought about the digital infrastructure and software systems used by your laboratory personnel? Is your present setup maximizing efficiency and productivity, or is there room for improvement? Would you consider your current laboratory information system (LIS) modern and full of features, or an unreliable and rigid system that requires expensive LIS vendor support for even the most minor configurations?
A modern and rule-based LIS system (also often referred to as pathology reporting software) can help clinical labs and pathology groups gain efficiency and productivity without adding operating costs:
Here are the areas where gains in accuracy and turnaround time are typically most evident with modern LIS software:
- Interfacing - Interfacing with the LIS enables the automatic transfer of data from EHR/EMR systems, lab billing systems, digital pathology solutions, and lab instruments.
- Test Order Management - A modern LIS can support the automatic scheduling of orders, minimizing the need to have orders accessioned in lab and LIS staffing.
- Data Management - A comprehensive and full-featured LIS system can ensure end-to-end lab data integrity by being the one source of truth for patient and specimen information, as well as test results and quality control data.
- Sample Management - A modern laboratory information system can automate sample tracking, labeling, and routing, making this process virtually error-free.
- Results Reporting - The best laboratory information system software automatically generates configurable report templates and alerts for abnormal test results.
- Inventory Management - The best LIS systems also can assist with inventory management, including reagent tracking and re-ordering of other lab supplies.
Simplify the Lab’s Workflow Processes
By investing in new pathology lab software and adopting new procedures during quiet times, a lab can continue to work toward its business goals at a more measured pace while preparing for what’s to come when the economy heats up again. During this time, you can take advantage of the slower pace and incorporate changes to clinical workflows, making them simpler and much less reliant on human resources.
Here are a few examples of how a clinical lab or pathology group can leverage its modern LIS system and introduce new procedures to simplify workflow processes:
- Automation - Adding automation and robotics to workflows translates into a much larger testing capacity for the lab and processing errors less likely even as the lab takes on a major increase in testing volume.
- Standard Operating Procedures - Often referred to as SOPs, these are guidelines that clearly and consistently define the proper procedures for specimen collection, processing, and reporting.
- Quality Control - By routinely monitoring and evaluating the accuracy and precision of testing procedures, the laboratory can identify areas for improvement and take corrective action when necessary.
- Regular Staff Training - To make significant process gains, staff buy-in is a must. Regular training and communication solidify roles and responsibilities, enabling even the most junior laboratorian to take complete ownership of his or her role.
Adopt a More Customer-Centric Approach
The better you understand what your customers truly want, the quicker you can adapt your product and services to meet their needs. When was the last time your organization took a step back to truly understand what providers and patients want? If it’s been a while, now is the perfect time to explore this question in-depth.
- Accurate and Reliable Results - Your customers expect this, but do you have the proper systems and procedures in place to reward them for this trust?
- Clear, Concise, and Configurable Reports - It’s the product of the laboratory and its importance cannot be understated. Do your lab reports support customer preferences for the look and feel as well as how and when they are delivered? Are they easy to understand and interpret? Do they not only explain test results but also associated risks and implications? If any of these areas are questionable it would be well worth your time to see what modern LIS vendors have to offer that would allow your lab to become more customer friendly.
- Fast Turnaround Times - The expectation is for speed and accuracy because any delays could negatively affect the patient’s diagnosis and treatment. Does your current lab information system allow for easy access to dashboards and widgets that track test start times and end times? Is the LIS system able to provide real-time stats that reflect lab operations and that have the potential to identify workflow deficiencies?
- Top-Notch Customer Service - What is your lab’s solution for customer relationship management (CRM)? How responsive is your laboratory staff when customers look to them for help? Do you have a software system in place to provide prompt and helpful service, or is this type of service mainly manual? It should be noted that modern lab pathology software often includes a CRM module that automates and streamlines customer interactions.
Be the First to Identify and Respond to New Business Opportunities
When the economy heats up again, will your clinical lab or pathology group be ready to take advantage of the new climate and quickly gain an advantage over the competition?
Here are a few more things to consider to make sure your business is prepped and ready.
- Conduct Market Research - A good way to identify potential new business opportunities is to conduct market research. Take the time to analyze trends, identify gaps, and better understand your customers.
- Assess Current Capabilities - After analyzing your customers, turn your attention inward to assess capabilities and evaluate existing systems, tools, and resources.
- Develop a Comprehensive Business Plan - Now that you’ve gathered information about your ideal customer and have a complete understanding of what the lab is capable of, you’re ready to move forward and create a business plan that lists the opportunities and that projects the costs associated with going after these opportunities (resources, timelines, budgets, etc.).
- Invest in Technology - Next, examine the state of technology within the laboratory and invest in tech solutions that will support the business plan and make it achievable. To gain market share is an upgrade to the LIS software or IT infrastructure needed? Is that the case here? Or does the lab need to invest in a new laboratory instrument to achieve its ultimate goal?
To summarize, treat this economic downturn as an opportunity to perfect processes and embrace innovation. With this mindset, you’ll make your clinical laboratory or pathology group even more competitive and you’ll be primed for long-term success.