Hospital laboratories: An untapped tool for patient engagement

In an era of value-based care, hospital administrators may view the laboratory as a necessary evil. While diagnostic testing is integral to managing patient health and establishing a basis for preventive care, hospital laboratories are traditionally seen as cost centers. Process improvement or outsourcing can drive efficiencies and lower costs, but hospital leaders often overlook an even greater opportunity to add value in the laboratory.

Don Adam, chief development officer of True Health, believes hospitals should leverage their laboratories as the front door of the health system. By integrating diagnostic testing with personalized health management, hospitals can improve performance metrics and increase patient engagement. 

"At the end of the day, your laboratory is really the tip of the spear in terms of getting results … and communicating those results to physicians and patients in a useful and meaningful way," Mr. Adam said during a Nov. 14 executive roundtable at the Becker's Hospital Review 6th Annual CEO+CFO Roundtable in Chicago. "There is a better way to engage patients in their health rather than simply providing a sheet with some data points on it."

A new way to look at the laboratory: The benefits of integrated diagnostics and health management services

During his presentation, Mr. Adam noted the following two benefits of shifting the perception of laboratory testing from a commodity to a patient-centric focus.

1. Help patients manage their health. Laboratory reports are just the first touchpoint, according to Mr. Adam. Using an integrated approach like True Health's, patients can take actionable steps to improve their health, beyond just discussing their results with a healthcare provider. They are able to engage in health programs, such as diabetes education or smoking cessation programs. The stratified results motivate patients to improve, and stay engaged in the management of their health. When done right, there can be a conversation between a patient and health system, aiding patient compliance of health management, as well as retention.

2. Improve community health. One of the greatest benefits of a patient-focused laboratory is better information on the disease state of an entire patient population — a critical component of any value-based care program. For example, when prediabetic patients know how to access resources within their health system to improve or even reverse their diagnosis, it not only improves patient health, but also drives down costs associated with chronic care management. "We will always have to manage that 5 percent [of the most complex, expensive patients]. If we can manage the next 30 percent after that, we will have better outcomes overall," Mr. Adam said.

Through a patient-focused prism, the hospital laboratory can shift from a cost center to a tool for patient engagement. Lab results can open the door to a longstanding meaningful relationship with patients to improve their health and the health of the overall patient population, while allowing physicians to remain focused on care. "Your laboratory program can move the needle in your organization, whether it's from a cost-savings perspective or a differentiating perspective. … There are people out there [using laboratories as a tool to engage patients and physicians] and having success," Mr. Adam said.


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