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Outside the Lab Laboratory management, Profession

The Biggest Piece of the Puzzle

As laboratory medicine practitioners, we’re always looking for innovative ways to improve our practices. Whether it’s remodeling the lab based on spaghetti diagrams, configuring our workspaces according to Lean best practices, or educating the clinical care team through consultation, our end goal is to ensure we deliver excellent patient care as efficiently as possible. However, perhaps the biggest piece of the efficient laboratory puzzle is nonverbal: leveraging big data to drive quality laboratory results and improve the lab ecosystem, thereby enhancing patient care and benefiting the entire healthcare system.

“Big data” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it mean for pathology and laboratory medicine? Every report you generate, every result you turn out, every culture you finalize, every bag of blood you send to the floor for transfusion – all of that contributes to the data the lab generates each year. It’s estimated that around 10 billion laboratory tests are performed each year in the US. To put that in perspective, lab tests are ordered at three times the rate of imaging studies. These assays range from cord blood analysis on newborn babies to strep throat screens on children to postnatal workup on new mothers to colonoscopy biopsies to end-of-life palliative care. It’s not hard to believe that 70 percent of medical decisions are reached due to laboratory test results. These results – this mountain of data we generate each year – are big data.

Laboratory test usage data can also help allocate more resources to the busiest shifts or departments.

Where can the data we generate each day lead us? We can analyze test usage to not only refine our test menus, but also design electronic requisitions that reduce incorrect or redundant test orders to help ensure we reach our “right test on the right patient at the right time” goals. Laboratory test usage data can also help allocate more resources to the busiest shifts or departments so we can make better use of our most important assets and improve employee retention.

We can analyze call center data – what questions do clinicians call the laboratory with, for example – to design and generate user-friendly lab reports. We can also use STAT turnaround time data and critical value incidence rates to improve processes for communicating with the clinical care team. And we can analyze workflow patterns and benchtop organization to ensure we’re making the best use of our space and staying up to date with Lean best practices.

Leveraging our data is not a future thing. It’s a now thing, and the only limit to the possibilities is your imagination.

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About the Author
E. Blair Holladay

CEO of the American Society for Clinical Pathology

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