Investing in the future of the hospital laboratory

The laboratory sits at a unique position in a patient’s diagnostic journey. The information that’s generated from a laboratory test is the critical link between a patient with a medical question and a physician with a definitive answer. Test results not only set patients on the right course but also guide their care throughout the entire treatment process.

The impact of a hospital lab extends beyond handling specimens and providing answers — it significantly influences the financial well-being of the institution it serves. As the hospital service line with the most patient interactions, the laboratory ranks among the top three contributors to a hospital's gross outpatient charges. With this high level of impact, the laboratory can bring robust financial returns while elevating the standards of care in the community it serves.

Despite this, hospitals are under pressure to manage the increasing costs of care without compromising quality or financial stability. In response to immediate challenges, hospital leaders and supply chain managers may be tempted to view lab services solely through a cost-centric lens, potentially outsourcing to providers with the lowest per-test prices or even selling the lab's outreach business.

The behind-the-scenes nature of a laboratory doesn’t lend itself to being top-of-mind with hospital leaders. Administrators might not understand the full scope of what happens in the lab and how it touches the many areas of patient care. This lack of awareness could translate into a lack of support when it comes to strategic planning for growth and development initiatives.

But it is important for laboratorians to help educate administrators and tell the stories that allow them to see the bigger strategic picture. By advocating for and retaining lab ownership, a hospital is making an important investment in its future and holding on to that financial return. When adequately supported, nurtured, and provided with resources, the lab can act as a catalyst for downstream revenue while keeping lab services close to its patients.

A healthy lab with a robust outreach program can drive positive changes across the continuum of care. With services under one roof and an integrated network, it is hard to compete with the test turnaround times of a hospital-based lab. Quality turnaround times produce timely results that physicians and healthcare professionals rely on to make care decisions.

Earlier diagnosis means patients receive appropriate treatment faster. This can generate cost efficiencies, optimal productivity, and positive patient experiences. Opportunity also lies in educating providers on best practices, eliminating wasteful testing, lowering the cost per diagnosis, and ensuring the highest standards of care in the communities the outreach lab serves.

As healthcare transforms in the digital age, labs must also assert control over their data. Laboratory data is indispensable for research and advancing scientific knowledge. While new technologies in healthcare offer limitless possibilities, their effectiveness hinges on the accuracy of the data used to develop them. Retaining ownership of the outreach lab allows the hospital to maintain full control of its data.

A lab’s primary value is in the benefits it delivers to patients and providers. When hospital or health system leadership choose to invest in the future of its laboratories, they’re helping to unlock the full financial potential and health advantages that are awaiting.

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