Laboratory Information System Software and its Role in Overcoming Laboratory Staffing Challenges
November 3, 2022
(This is part two of a series. Look for part three later this month).
Welcome to part two of our blog series on laboratory staffing challenges, where we’re uncovering the root causes of the problem and identifying possible solutions for lab managers to consider. For part one, we sat down with Dr. James Crawford, Senior Vice President for Laboratory Services at Northwell Health and Professor and Chair of Pathology/Lab Medicine at the Donald & Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. Dr. Crawford shared his point of view on topics such as recruitment, compensation, career advancement, and process improvements. Follow this link to review part one in its entirety.
For part two, we turned to Bri Spencer, Molecular Lab Manager at Avero Diagnostics (formerly Northwest Pathology and Northwest Laboratory), for a deep dive into how the lab, which specializes in anatomic pathology, clinical laboratory, and molecular diagnostics, is utilizing new technology and a spirit of innovation to streamline its workflows and remove time-consuming and redundant manual processes.
First, here’s a recap of the current situation.
Modern LIS Systems: The Long-term Solution to Staffing Challenges
As every lab professional knows, medical laboratories play a critical role in healthcare. Nearly every time a patient enters a hospital or healthcare facility, their diagnosis is in the hands of a medical laboratory professional. Unfortunately, the industry is in a precarious situation right now. It’s experiencing unprecedented labor shortages, especially for medical laboratory technologists.
A 2018 report issued by the American Society for Clinical Pathology found there is an average vacancy rate of nearly 9 percent in almost every lab specialty, and in some departments, the rate is as high as an eye-popping 25 percent. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics supports these findings with its estimate that the industry needs to increase its workforce of laboratory technologists and technicians by nearly 13 percent, which is nearly double the underlying increase needed in all other occupations. That means the industry, consisting of roughly 335,500 medical professionals, could soon be short nearly 44,000 workers.
The good news is that there are some tools lab managers can turn to for help. In part one of our series, we identified that a modern laboratory information system (LIS) should be part of any long-term solution to the staffing crisis by making medical laboratories more efficient and less reliant on manual steps during testing workflows.
LIS software solutions like the LigoLab LIS & RCM Laboratory Operating Platform help manage all aspects of diagnostic testing for medical labs. LIS systems serve as the driver of laboratory data, supporting the patient and the specimen lifecycle as it’s inputted into the system, and then tracked, processed, and reported on. These systems also enable lab managers to build rules and deploy automation that helps compensate for knowledge loss and employee turnover. As Spencer shared below, that’s exactly how Avero is overcoming some of its staffing challenges.
How Avero Leveraged LigoLab Operating Platform to Simplify its Molecular Lab Operations
Avero had already chosen to partner with LigoLab and use Ligolab Operating Platform to support laboratory operational and financial operations when the pandemic hit. It was also an early adopter of the company’s direct-to-consumer patient portal, called TestDirectly, an application that played a critical role in helping the lab streamline its services during the COVID-19 outbreak. The full-service lab had to scale its molecular PCR testing capacity very quickly to meet pandemic-driven demand. In fact, at the height of COVID-19 waves, the lab was processing a daily throughput north of 20,000 specimens.
“For our COVID-19 testing program to be successful, we had to be extremely accurate and our turnaround times had to be incredibly fast,” said Spencer. “But we were up against staffing shortages and extreme demand. As such, manual order entry and follow-up chokepoints had to be removed and replaced to accommodate the demand.”
According to Spencer, Avero would not have been able to quickly scale up and meet the molecular testing demand without LigoLab’s agile LIS solution, which offered a wide range of configurations to accommodate new workflows, and a proprietary interface engine that maximized connectivity and enabled the lab to quickly add new analyzers and robotics to boost throughput. Another key was the introduction of TestDirectly, a web-based patient portal that directly connected patients with the lab via a digital process that eliminated paper forms and removed the accessioning bottleneck with online patient self-registration and scheduling. The portal also automated report delivery with email and text notifications sent directly to patients and other stakeholders. Most importantly, the portal enabled Avero to manage a huge daily capacity without sacrificing testing accuracy or turnaround times.
Innovation and the Adoption of New Technology to Meet Unprecedented Demand
By leveraging both the LIS and the direct-to-consumer portal, Avero was not only able to process thousands of molecular PCR tests daily, and well over a million cases in the pandemic’s first year, an incredible 98 percent of cases were reported to patients and stakeholders within 24 hours of the lab’s receipt of the specimen.
This would not have been possible without a true spirit of innovation behind the Avero-LigoLab partnership, and a flexible and supportive operating platform to manage everything from patient self-registration and scheduling of tests, to specimen collection and laboratory processing, to report delivery and billing for services rendered.
“During public health events like the COVID-19 pandemic, time is a critical factor,” added Spencer. “Patients, healthcare workers, and public health officials all need to know in real-time what’s happening during an outbreak. That’s nearly impossible to do with manual processes, and that’s another reason why technology adoption is a must for today’s labs.”
The decision to implement new technology at the height of the pandemic was a risky one, but it paid off for Avero. Throughout the pandemic, the lab served as a trusted testing partner for several drive-through collection sites in multiple states. It also partnered with public health departments and other government agencies like the Florida Department of Health and the Washington State Department of Corrections. Additionally, it also supported organizational testing for employers, school and university systems, the entertainment and production industry, and more.
Final Thoughts About Laboratory Information System Software
Although the latest laboratory technology doesn’t replace the critical work that highly trained lab professionals perform, it can help ease some of the burden caused by today’s staffing challenges, empowering medical laboratory technologists to spend less time on redundant and manual tasks, and more time putting their unique skills and training to good use and better patient outcomes. Going even further, if a medical laboratory has plans to scale faster and become more profitable, it’s imperative that it operates more effectively by automating core processes that streamline both operational and financial performance.
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.