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Management & Operations
From staffing shortages to supply chain delays, today’s hospital and health system laboratories face a number of ongoing challenges, exacerbated by the pandemic. According to research conducted by Quest Diagnostics, members of health system C-suites report the following1:
- 58% have staffing issues, including retention, training, and retraining of staff
- 56% have concerns about supply-chain logistics, including inventory management and supply delays or shortages
- 33% have technology challenges, including out-of-date equipment that needs replacement or maintenance
So, what can be done to address these challenges? Developing a forward-looking lab management strategy—one that enables you to proactively address staffing, supply-chain, and equipment issues, along with regulatory protocol updates—can help. As a result, your lab will be ready to upgrade, advance, and expand your diagnostic services.
Proactive planning for lab staffing
A number of factors have contributed to the lab staffing shortage; first, an aging workforce is beginning to retire, leading to vacancy rates that exceed the current number of laboratory medicine technician program graduates.2 Unfortunately, this has been happening at the same time as the demand for lab services has jumped, a result of population growth, an increase in the over-65 population, and an expanding number of molecular and esoteric tests.2 Technology advances have also played a role in this shortage, changing the practice of laboratory medicine.2
To mitigate the effects of the staffing shortage, a sign of good leadership is to engage in proactive staffing succession planning. It can prevent testing delays and the loss of revenue if, say, your lab has to pause testing due to the departure of your lab director. 3 Additional strategies to support both your retention and recruitment efforts include:
- Remaining flexible regarding staffing decisions and compensation
- Being transparent about the future of existing staff and the quality of any new staff
- Ensuring your lab’s work environment is aligned with your health system’s culture
- Being up front about the details of your hiring practice, while ensuring they’re in line with your health system’s goals and values, eg, diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts
Working with a strategic lab partner like Quest can also help to fill in gaps when and where needed.
Rethinking supply-chain management
As a result of the pandemic, health system supply chains have had to become more resilient and proactive, stretching their resources while highlighting their strategic position within the organization.4
As the supply chain function oversees most of a health system’s external spend—accounting for up to 40% of total costs—many health systems are focusing their attention here, investing in this function to optimize performance.4 Administrators with procurement responsibilities have also elevated the value of a reliable supply chain in their evaluations.
This is smart, because a reliable healthcare supply chain is one of the most important factors in ensuring that both providers and patients have regular access to lab services. While faulty supply chains can lead to suboptimal treatment and increased hospital stays,5 a high-performing supply chain function can improve care, increase provider satisfaction, reduce supply spend by up to 10%, and better position health systems to achieve their goals for growth.4
Working with a large and responsive commercial reference lab like Quest can help offset supply-chain management challenges and concerns. As demonstrated during the pandemic, Quest was able to ramp up capacity for COVID-19 molecular diagnostic testing despite global supply-chain constraints.
A new era for equipment upgrades
The pace of technology innovation is dizzying. That’s certainly true for laboratory medicine, making processes easier, better, and faster as the technology itself gets smaller in size yet more expensive (as seen in point-of-care diagnostics, for example).
National commercial reference labs buy more lab equipment and supplies than individual entities, so collaborating with one can allow health systems to (1) take advantage of greater purchasing power and (2) benefit from lower supply-chain costs. It can also alleviate costs for capital equipment upgrades that become the responsibility of the strategic lab partner—and not your health system.
Staying current with regulatory protocol
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) regulates all lab testing performed on patients in the US, while the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) of 1988 ensure the accuracy and reliability of testing in all labs.6 Although state agencies are responsible for lab oversight and maintaining certifications, it’s vital to stay current with updates made to regulatory protocol—and that requires staff time and effort.
Partnering with a strategic lab partner like Quest can allow you and your lab staff to take advantage of the infrastructure in place that monitors for these updates and changes. This can alleviate the burden on staff and help ensure your lab is always adhering to the latest protocol.
While it’s true that today’s hospital and health system labs face many challenges, a proactive lab management strategy can set your lab on a better path. Part of this strategy can include collaborating with a national commercial reference lab. This partnership can fill gaps and help your lab advance its diagnostic capabilities—today and in the future.
- Research on file. Quest Diagnostics. 2022.
- ASCLS. Addressing the clinical laboratory workforce shortage. Accessed July 14, 2023. https://ascls.org/addressing-the-clinical-laboratory-workforce-shortage/
- CLP. Proactive succession planning for the clinical laboratory. May 11, 2022. Accessed July 14, 2023. https://clpmag.com/lab-management/proactive-succession-planning-for-the-clinical-laboratory/
- Bowen B, Galceran BC, Karim S, Weinstein W. Optimizing health system supply chain performance. McKinsey & Company. August 23, 2022. Accessed July 14, 2023. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare/our-insights/optimizing-health-system-supply-chain-performance
- Malakbungu L. Robust supply chain systems: the backbone for quality laboratory services and health care. EIDH. June 23, 2022. Accessed July 14, 2023. https://eidhs.fhi360.org/robust-supply-chain-systems-the-backbone-for-quality-laboratory-services-and-health-care/
- CMS. Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). Last modified May 11, 2023. Accessed July 14, 2023. https://www.cms.gov/regulations-and-guidance/legislation/clia