The laboratories’ critical role in the future of healthcare

Becker's Hospital Review caught up with Brian Blaser, Executive Vice President at Abbott, to find out more about the laboratories’ critical role in the future of healthcare.

BLASER 2 02 360x380Question: There’s a lot of attention these days given to rising costs and added pressures on hospital systems, and having to do more with less. From your perspective, can you tell us how hospital systems can realize the benefits labs can provide to improve efficiencies and clinical care?

Brian Blaser: In today’s environment, hospital systems are looking for solutions that provide medical and economic benefits. Laboratories have the ability to do both. They provide diagnostics testing across the entire continuum of care—prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring. Diagnostic testing accounts for <5% of total healthcare costs, but they are used to influence over 70% of all critical clinical decision makingi

At Abbott, we are focused on helping laboratories maximize value to patients and the health system by improving outcomes and driving costs down. That means we are constantly focused on creating solutions that deliver the highest quality tests with instrumentation that is highly efficient in terms of speed, throughput, reliability and space utilization. In fact, our state-of-the-art Alinity family of diagnostic instruments – for immunoassay, clinical chemistry, point of care, hematology, molecular diagnostics and blood and plasma screening – is intentionally engineered with smart capabilities that upgrade test speed, volume and efficiency within a smaller and more versatile footprint. Alinity’s compact design can mean a significant reduction – nearly 50-percent in some cases – in instrument footprint in the core lab.

In addition to laboratory solutions, we are the leading provider of point of care testing, and we are constantly looking for applications that get testing closer to the patient where results can be accessed faster to improve patient care. One such example is our i-STAT Alinity system that’s designed to be easy, accurate and connected, and integrates with-patient testing directly into the clinical care pathway accelerating time to treatment. And its built-in, secure cloud technology lowers the administrative burden by enabling remote connectivity.

Q: What are some innovative things you’ve seen being done by successful laboratories to help their hospital system partners?

BB: Hospital systems are complex organizations that have different needs depending on their geographic configuration, patient populations, and care objectives. The most successful laboratories tend to be the ones that are most innovative in designing their operations to optimize these variables, and those willing to rethink and offer additional ways they can support and help drive positive care outcomes. Some of the more innovative things we’ve seen done involve integrating laboratory, point of care, automation, and informatics capabilities to provide exceptional care while at the same time reducing cost to the system in terms of stay length, return visits to the hospital, etc.

To help our partners achieve this success, our Alinity diagnostic systems are flexible and scalable, allowing laboratories to customize configurations across the lab for space savings and grow at a rate in proportion to their testing volumes. It’s also an open system allowing for various connection points, and includes a common, integrated user interface that’s intuitive and easy to learn for all types lab personnel, eliminating unnecessary initiation and ramp-up time. And with Alinity PRO, a web-based software providing centralized monitoring to enhance operational efficiency throughout a lab network, lab staff can access and monitor real-time dashboards anytime, anywhere. All of this technology helps laboratories innovate while allowing laboratorians more time to consult and support physicians with critical clinical decisions.

Q: Is there an untapped opportunity for hospital systems to better utilize big data coming from clinical labs to advise on things like population health management and precision medicine?

BB: Clinical laboratories are unique with respect to the amount of information they create and have access to. In addition to population health and precision medicine, we are working on a number of opportunities in the areas of clinical decision support and operational excellence that improve the value equation. Recent research published by The Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts the clinical laboratory will play an increasing role in predictive analytics, population health management and clinical decision support.

Today we are working with several leading organizations across the globe to deliver innovative solutions, like our AlinIQ CDS (Clinical Decision Support), that automate patient clinical data through physician-developed best practice protocols to enable more precise care. Through AlinIQ CDS, labs can provide clinicians and physicians with patient-centric recommendations and interpretations that make it easier to deliver high-quality patient care. It also enables clinical experts to institutionalize their knowledge and automatically apply their decision-making process to individual patient cases – generating relevant, patient-specific insights at scale. These types of data-driven solutions empower evidence-based clinical standards while reducing variation in treatment, leading to better, more efficient medicine, as well as potentially reducing readmissions and length of stay.

Q: Can or should diagnostic labs be more proactive in consulting with physicians on test results and complex cases to help deliver clinical insights for better outcomes?

BB: The first objective of any laboratory is supporting the physician with the right test, at the right time, and with the highest level of quality. With more and more information available, laboratories are well positioned to play a broader role in assisting physicians with support along the entire care continuum. In fact, we’ve heard directly from hospital executive leaders across the globe and the majority want labs to be proactive in supporting best practice by HCPs.

Q: Given the growing need for healthcare, labs seem to be under more pressure than ever. Can you talk about those challenges and the ways labs can address and overcome them – so they can be better prepared for the future?

BB: Pressure on laboratories is increasing at an exponential rate. Governments and providers are increasing access to quality and affordable care. Testing volumes are increasing as populations age and with the prevalence of chronic disease. Reimbursement rates are declining and budgets are more strained than ever. The laboratories of the future are ones that can stay relevant in addressing the broader needs of this environment, which include assay, instrumentation, and informatics solutions that optimize the outcomes and cost equation while helping to improve clinical outcomes.

iForsman RW. Why is the laboratory an afterthought for managed care organizations? Clin Chem. 1996; 42:813–816.

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