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Clinical labs rise to a health crisis

Seamless connection between clinics and labs prepare for future challenges

You’ve seen the videos – people in Madrid, Rome, New York, Atlanta and cities all around the world step onto their porches and balconies as they shelter-in-place to cheer and applaud the efforts of healthcare workers, grocery store employees and other essential workers who must continue to provide services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As people adjust to the “new normal” of social distancing, homeschooling and travel restrictions, I am heartened to see these uplifting demonstrations that show how we all recognized the sacrifices of others.

While nurses, doctors, and first responders are garnering many of the headlines, and deservedly so, clinical laboratory personnel also continue to play an important role in this time of crisis. Lab employees across the U.S. have worked to develop the capacity to test for COVID-19 and to report results quickly to treating physicians, as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to provide an accurate picture of infection rates. They are sharing data, experiences and lessons learned with colleagues in other regions in order to help other labs benefit from their experiences ramping up testing. Whether it is the innovative point-of-care, rapid result testing, or other quickly emerging innovations, clinical lab teams have risen to the challenge of meeting new, unforeseen needs.

Point of care shortages like personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilator supplies are not the only shortages facing our healthcare systems. According to Modern Healthcare, labs alike are dealing with reagent supply shortages, lack of instrument access and a need for more staffing to support the surge of demand. Regulations, however, are not in short supply and maneuvering the guidelines and restrictions set between the CDC, FDA and even CMS have also hampered their ability to streamline progress to develop and roll out testing in rapid pace.

But the labs supporting the front lines are resilient in their efforts. The Dark Report, a publication focused on business intelligence for clinical laboratory professionals, described the journey of Northwell Health as its lab personnel took steps to accurately test large volumes of patients in short amounts of time. They accomplished this by developing a platform that can handle a larger than normal volume of tests and enabling all local hospitals in the system to develop results rather than just one core lab.

One thing that is rarely mentioned in the news coverage is the fact that laboratories are still handling all other diagnostic testing in addition to COVID-19. Although elective procedures and many routine visits have been rescheduled, physicians are continuing to see patients with injuries, illnesses, emergencies and chronic conditions that require regular follow-up.

Ensuring that the results of these diagnostic tests are properly received by the lab and charged to insurer, and results are reported back to physicians is critical to ongoing patient care. As health systems expand to include additional facilities and physician offices, and as labs offer outreach services to physicians not affiliated with the hospital, the need to seamlessly connect to multiple EMRs and to fit into the normal workflow of a clinic or physician office is important.

Because healthcare personnel are constantly looking for ways to improve performance, agility and service to customers and patients, following this pandemic, many diagnostic providers will conduct an evaluation of their lab’s ability to handle the normal and abnormal tests and workloads. As reviews are conducted, it will be important to evaluate integration technology between the lab and clinics – especially those that are part of an outreach program. These connections require a special focus on both the ability to integrate with a myriad of EMRs as well as to create a process that streamlines the process of sending orders and receiving results to improve workflow in the clinic. A familiarity with laboratory processes, the technical expertise required to build the integration, and the people who know how to support the lab’s integration efforts are all important components to the success of any outreach lab effort.

Kudos to all healthcare and lab personnel who have demonstrated grit, dedication, and the value of innovation and commitment to patient care prior to, during and following the COVID-19 pandemic. All of us at OpenText™ EMR-Link™ are proud to support clinical labs in their everyday work as well as in extraordinary times.

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