Lab Pathology Software Features - 2021 Buyers' Guide and Checklist
1. Intro: The Importance of Pathology Lab Information Systems
The healthcare industry is going through rapid changes. Demands and opportunities facing pathology laboratories are no exception. While the last 12 months have been dominated by changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic - especially in terms of dramatic increases in demand - a strong case can be made that the effect of the spread of the novel coronavirus has accelerated existing trends as much as it has created new ones. In particular, pathology labs are seeing a need to ensure that their services are supported by modern, efficient, and customizable laboratory software.
Simply put: in an increasingly competitive (and regulated) marketplace, digitization and automation of laboratory processes are no longer “nice to haves” - they are rapidly becoming base-level requirements. Pathology labs that are slow to upgrade from legacy information systems risk losing both clients and funding.
2. Overview: Key Features in Pathology Lab Software
While the work of a pathology laboratory is very different from, for example, a computer company or a delivery service, it’s useful to note that many key success factors are common across industries. For example, extremely successful companies such as Apple, FedEx, and Toyota - themselves in very different industries from each other - all rely on streamlined manufacturing processes, intense focus on supply chains and logistics, rigorous quality assurance protocols and internal state-of-the-art software systems that automate, integrate, and support these functions.
In these respects, success factors of pathology labs are no different. The equivalent functions in pathology management software systems include seamless integration of various pathology modules (anatomic and clinical pathology), automation of complex laboratory processes, robust interoperability, and a growth-driven pricing model. In terms of specific features that pathologists need in 2021 and beyond, and lab managers and owners should be looking for - among others - include modern specimen tracking systems, quality assurance protocols, and integrated and customizable reporting modules. We will review five key laboratory software features below before concluding with an outlook on the future of pathology lab software.
3. Key Pathology Lab Information System Feature #1: Pathology Specimen Tracking Systems
In 2021, barcoding samples in clinical or anatomical pathology labs should be part of a laboratory’s standard operating procedures. In particular, the use of Quick Response (QR) codes, with their ability to link with web-based information systems, should be part of a lab manager’s baseline expectations from a pathology software company.
Software portals with electronic workflow architecture featuring QR coding options allow for significantly more automation than manual or paper records or other alternatives. As a result, laboratories:
- Require less labor to track and report on specimens, which decreases costs and increases throughput.
- Produce fewer errors, which are at best time-consuming to resolve and fix and at worst impact the lab’s reputation and patient health outcomes.
- Can create end-to-end automation, integrating specimen tracking with online patient self-registration (including demographic and insurance information), making it easier to obtain payment and reimbursement for their work, increasing revenue and efficiency while reducing labor costs.
4. Key Pathology Lab Information System Feature #2: Pathology Lab Reporting Software
While reporting on results to patients, physicians, government and health agencies (and, if appropriate, employers, schools, etc.) tends to happen at the end of the process, it’s often one of the first features discussed in a pathology lab software demo. This is because of the crucial importance of accurate, automated, customizable and efficient reporting. Without using modern pathology management software, reporting can be a source of significant inefficiencies, including but not limited to:
- Calls from patients looking for their results
- Calls from physicians’ offices seeking results
- Manually sending reports to government, public health agencies, and other institutions.
Pathology experts agree that lab reporting software must have six key characteristics in order for a laboratory to function efficiently and not get left behind by the competition:
4a. Lab Reporting Software Characteristic #1: Interoperability
Effective lab reporting software must be able to connect with a wide range of electronic medical record and billing services used by hospitals and health systems across the country. As such, the system should be built on an open architecture, use a versatile interface engine and support a wide variety of formats, including embedded PDFs, XML, and links in HL7 messages.
4b. Lab Reporting Software Characteristic #2: Flexibility
The best LIS software should offer fully customizable report templates, including the possibility of client co-branded or white labelled reports. Similarly, modern pathology information systems should offer features such as personalization, saved preferences, full-color rich text, diagrams, and images. These should come with licenses included and pre-loaded into the system, not as extra add-ons.
4c. Lab Reporting Software Characteristic #3: Configurability
Reporting configurability is a crucial feature of well-designed pathology Laboratory Information Systems (LIS) that is often overlooked but can be a major time and cost-saver. The template engine should be embedded in the LIS, as well as provide support for macros, attachments (including images and diagrams), and annotations in generated reports.
4d. Lab Reporting Software Characteristic #4: Integration
A successful anatomic or clinical pathology Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) should automatically integrate multiple test results from various departments into one easy-to-read report summary.
4e. Lab Reporting Software Characteristic #5: Decision Support Systems
As much of the healthcare industry moves towards value-based care, the best pathology management software is one that provides various risk assessment tools in reports, such as decision support systems and best practice protocols. This provides an efficiency value-add to caregivers and makes reports into more than a “data dump.”
4f. Lab Reporting Software Characteristic #6: Automated Multi-Channel Distribution
A quality pathology LIS reporting system should allow for automated distribution of lab reports via multiple platforms including email, fax, provider and patient web portals, remote and local printers, and/or SMS/text message.
5. Key Pathology Lab Information System Feature #3: Scalable Pricing Model
If healthcare leaders learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that demand for pathology lab services can change extremely quickly - both quantitatively and qualitatively. While the current situation is continuing to play out, many experts agree that the world is increasingly likely to face additional and unpredictable public health challenges in the future. These “known unknowns” will necessarily impact pathology laboratories’ business model, as anatomic and clinical pathology labs will necessarily be on the front lines of any response.
As such, it is crucial that labs partner with laboratory software companies that have flexible and scalable pricing models. Relying on a one-size-fits-all pathology lab software price is inefficient, wasteful, and ultimately harmful to both labs and laboratory software companies, and, as a result, the overall health care system.
For example, LigoLab LIS & RCM (Revenue Cycle Management) Laboratory Operating Platform has a unique pricing model which is based on the laboratory’s work volume. This work volume determines the cost-per-test, such that as volumes increase, the cost comes down. In this aligned partnership model, there is no large, upfront capital investment or restrictive licensing fees. Therefore the lab is free to focus on growth, innovation, and maximizing resources.
6. Key Pathology Lab Information System Feature #4: Auto-Billing
Claims processing can be a time-consuming process that generates significant labor costs and decreases potential lab throughput. The right pathology lab software provides part of the solution. In 2021, the best software standard can be found in no-touch auto-billing systems that automatically check patients’ insurance eligibility with information collected at the time of registration, and use this information to auto-bill the payer or client. Automating this process not only saves time and money, as per above, but also reduces errors and speeds up the cash collection process, which allows pathology labs to put their working capital to better use.
While billing automation can be an issue for any business, pathology lab reimbursement requires laboratory revenue cycle management software that complies with ever-changing regulatory frameworks. For example, claiming reimbursements from the federal Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) program for uninsured individuals can be a labor-intensive, inefficient and error-prone process if the pathology lab software company has not invested in this specific capability. For example, during the current pandemic, studies show that more than 10 percent of claims for COVID-19 cases were from uninsured individuals.
7. Key Pathology Lab Information System Feature #5: Pooled Testing Capability
One interesting innovation for pathology labs can be found in pooled testing, which involves processing multiple specimens together in a single batch. Done effectively, pooled testing can allow pathology laboratories to increase capacity while decreasing turnaround time and cost-per-test. The best pathology lab software supports pooled testing and can track multiple specimens simultaneously after barcoding them, which is otherwise a complex and error-prone process if attempted manually. Another crucial part of the pooled testing process is the ability to track the retesting of positive samples for confirmation, and it’s crucial that the laboratory software supports this.
8. Conclusion: The Future of Pathology Lab Information Systems
Like many industries, the pathology lab software sector has been dividing for some time into winners and losers in part based on a company’s underlying business model, including its ability to deploy technology effectively. This trend has been dramatically accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has helped make the use of high-quality laboratory information systems a minimum and necessary standard for pathology labs in 2021 and beyond. Lab managers and owners who have not already made these investments risk being left behind, while those who continue to stay at the forefront stand to reap the rewards.