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15 February 2023

Lean on technology to relieve US medical laboratory labor pressures

The COVID-19 pandemic catapulted the important work of US medical laboratories into the spotlight, but recent studies show the pandemic did little to ease the long-standing labor pressures in the sector.

The pandemic hastened retirements and spurred medical laboratory professionals to pursue other career interests. “The pandemic only exacerbated the challenges that laboratories face in filling open positions, with many staff opting to retire early or leave the field altogether,” concluded the authors of the ASCP 2020 Vacancy Survey of Medical Laboratories in the United States. The survey revealed a full 6% increase in the rate of departures from the laboratory profession between 2018 and 2020.

MLO’s 2022 annual salary survey revealed that those who stayed are reporting lower job satisfaction from 2021 to 2022, perhaps aftereffects from the pandemic-driven declines in testing volumes that forced hiring freezes and furloughs. Although laboratories pivoted quickly to reassign staff to manage the increases in molecular testing and to fill vacancies and open shifts by offering incentives and bonuses, MLO’s 2022 survey results indicate a failure to match wages to the rising costs of living and to resolve wage inequality between men and women leaves laboratory labor in a tenuous position still.

The figures lay bare the need to address your laboratory’s long-time labor shortage from all directions and with help from all stakeholders—including from your lab technology partners.

Technology to relieve the strain on existing lab staff

To drive recruitment and retention, many experts are sharing ideas and adopted practices. CAP Today published a roundtable discussion in June 2021 with industry leaders talking about recruiting efforts within their own enterprises and communities. From financial incentives like sign-on bonuses to internships, improved educational funding, partnering with local schools and streamlining tracks to licensure, there are many strategies to consider across various stakeholders to bring more people to your team.

But, have you explored how lab technology can make your existing staff more productive? Even more to the point, have you constructed technology solutions that free up staff to do the tasks needed most? A seasoned laboratory technology partner has proven solutions that reduce labor-intensive administrative tasks, enabling laboratory professionals to focus more on diagnostics and improved outcomes, less on orders and results management. As noted in a recent Medical Laboratory Observer article:

A decade ago, a good portion of a laboratorian’s day was dedicated to necessary, manual tasks, such as sample archiving and system maintenance. But students don’t invest four to eight years learning the complexities of pathology to then sort thousands of tubes or troubleshoot equipment … Technology partners owe it to laboratory professionals to help them focus their expertise on what ignited their passion for the profession in the first place—the diagnostic part of their work.

At Clinisys, we couldn’t agree more. The systems you choose for laboratory operations should streamline processes across the diagnostic continuum, so laboratory staff can accomplish more without sacrificing quality, safety or job satisfaction. To illustrate, let’s look at some of the challenges that can be addressed with technology that enables the lab to do more with less.

  • Incomplete, duplicate or incorrect orders (manual or electronic)
  • Inefficient instrument / test routing
  • Test sharing inhibitors
  • Disjointed pathology workflow
  • Patient safety and lean lab processes

Incomplete, duplicate or incorrect orders (manual or electronic)

Challenges: Manual order processing and sample accessioning occupies staff time. Orders coming into the lab from disparate systems (physician EMRs, other labs, enterprise EHRs/EMRs) often require additional manual processes before the lab can route, perform and result the tests. Incomplete orders also may require lab personnel to intervene to complete missing information. This impacts turnaround time as well as lab productivity.

Solution: From the physician’s office to the lab and back again, Clinisys solutions can fully automate lab testing, completing orders at accessioning. They enable your healthcare organization to develop multi-site laboratory partnerships and to extend services to physician customers, nursing homes, patient service centers, reference labs and more—including those already using established electronic medical record (EMR) and third-party middleware solutions. Powerful multi-staged order workflow automation rules orchestrate clean order capture to improve lab staff productivity by reducing time spent manually resolving missing or incomplete orders. Those same workflow automation rules accommodate varying user preferences for electronic orders and results delivery and allow labs to report partial results and critical or abnormal results per the preferences of individual physicians.

Inefficient instrument / test routing

Challenges: Lab personnel spend time duplicating data entry into separate LIS, blood bank and electronic healthcare record (EHR) systems. These activities do not add value and can actually increase the potential for confusion with test routing, tracking and turnaround. Mislabeling of specimens at order intake can cause incorrect resulting and possible patient misdiagnosis. Auto verification of results may also not be possible, as some technology does not accommodate unsolicited or repeat orders.

Solution: Use Clinisys orders and results management solutions to label samples at the point of collection and route them automatically to the correct analyzers without manual handling by staff. Clinisys solutions expedite collection, support draw order compliance, and prevent mislabeling through PPID and instrument-ready barcode labels. Automatic data review provides historical views, delta checks and validation, while customizable rules for auto verification eliminate staff processing. These leaner workflows enable higher throughput and productivity despite staffing challenges.

Test sharing inhibitors

Challenges: Cooperating with other labs to share or batch tests is complex and work-intensive to manage. The efficiencies of overcoming staffing shortages through sharing seem obvious, but the ROI (in a merger or consolidation)isn’t there to reconfigure or replace existing systems. Specimens continue to be processed at a less efficient laboratory location.

Solution: Independent or affiliated labs can leverage one another’s core competencies and benefit from efficiencies of scale while continuing to operate independently and on separate LISs. Clinisys solutions enable multiple labs to share tests, batch and route samples, and consolidate reports for ordering physicians. All participating labs utilize a shared barcode labeling scheme across their various points of collection, enabling sample routing between the labs. Lab cooperation initiatives made possible by Clinisys solutions reduce staff time and reference lab costs and create new opportunities for insourcing, all without disrupting the labs’ existing IT investments.

Disjointed pathology workflow

Challenges: Any delay in the anatomic pathology lab inevitably results in more surgeons and clinicians calling to ask for status. Meanwhile, lab staff is tied up with processing samples at accessioning, manually entering data, coordinating secondary consults, locating and attaching ancillary reports, and reporting out in multiple directions to physicians’ offices and registries.

Solution: Technology can digitize many processes in the AP lab by linking systems, data, tools and devices into a single interface. Clinisys anatomic pathology solutions unite the pathology workflow and make it configurable for the team’s specific needs. They eliminate relabeling at accessioning, display case-centric daily worklists by pathologist or by specialty, automatically append ancillary reports and images from devices, include integrated dictation and image annotation tools, simplify remote consult and sign-out, and deliver the complete, synoptic case report to the ordering physician. Clinisys solutions free up lab staff to work on diagnostics, eliminate manual tasks, reduce turnaround time, enable holistic analyzes, and deliver better service to clinicians.

Patient safety and lean lab processes

Challenges: Human error is still the leading cause of pre- and post-analytic laboratory mistakes, like incorrect patient, incorrect test, misidentified patient, misrouted test and incorrect collection container. Outside of the laboratory, siloed lab results, paired with limited information about the patient, can result in clinical errors that impact both cost and patient safety.

Solution: Automation leans processes, freeing up technologists to focus on higher value tasks. Also, automation from the point of collection to the recording of results in the EHR constitutes an end-to-end, electronic chain of custody for samples. Clinisys solutions unite lab disciplines to create a closed-loop, enterprise-level system that links the entire continuum of care. Clinicians get a full view of the patient’s medical record plus test results for truly integrated care. The results are leaner processes, faster turnaround times, less cost, and a holistic, patient-centered view of laboratory results and care history.

Next steps

Although the core responsibilities of medical laboratories changed little in the pandemic, many lab staff experienced big changes in short amounts of time. Hiring barely kept pace, while people took on different assignments and levels of responsibility to help fill in gaps. Now it’s time to lean on technology. Evaluate where inefficiencies still exist, where leaner processes are needed, and where lab staff derives the least contentment.

Engage Clinisys and your other partners to ease the ongoing staffing strain by using technology to improve the efficiency in your day-to-day laboratory operations. Request a meeting to start to put our technology to work for your team.