Duration: 4 min. read
Management & Operations, Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
Why should you, as a health system leader, consider spending a day in your hospital’s clinical lab?
If you want to get a holistic view of how your health system runs, the lab department is a great place to start. Labs contribute to the quality of care you provide, but also play a vital role in departments like ED, pharmacy, respiratory, and nursing. Labs can also help to break down departmental silos of care. And your visibility within labs can increase staff engagement and ultimately, drive better financial performance.
Building your lab awareness
From my time as a health system lab director, I’d say at least a third of health system leaders aren’t truly aware of the important role labs play. Historically, laboratorians have not done a great job at promoting our field and our contribution to the collective good of the hospital, so it’s certainly not all on hospital leaders that they may not be aware of the impact.
Even if you’re fairly confident in your knowledge of the lab, here are a few suggestions to get yourself up-to-speed:
Sit down with your lab leadership. This would include anyone at the VP, AVP, Director or Manager level. Talk to them about what a day in the life of the laboratory is like. Where do they think they could play a stronger role in value-based care? What are the challenges that slow their progress? How do they understand the ways they contribute to the ultimate care your system is providing? I guarantee you’ll walk away with some rich insights and ideas.
Go deep on a key lab program. A great example is antibiotic stewardship. As a health system leader you should proactively understand how the laboratory contributes to the decisions your providers make around the antibiotics they give to patients who have a variety of bacterial infections, whether it's a sepsis pneumonia or a urinary tract infection. Understanding infectious disease support as a whole, and the role the laboratory plays in the partnership, can be highly illuminating.
Ask how lab collaborates with other departments. At a recent quality event I attended, we were focusing on improving order-to-result for Emergency Department lab tests. We had ED physicians and a few ED nurses, one of whom said on the first day, “I don't understand why I'm here. This is a lab problem.” By the fourth day, she stood up in front of the whole group and said, “Now I understand. It’s our problem and we need to collectively come up with solutions because it took all 3 of our departments who technically are working in their own silos to come together and provide the best care for the patients.” That’s why hospital leaders should be devoting time to understanding areas like respiratory, pharmacy, and lab to ensure that leaders can articulate how these areas contribute to patient care. If something goes wrong with a patient, it’s typically because there were problems across multiple departments and in multiple places. That’s why it’s important that we all work together for the common good.
Spend time with the techs and phlebotomists. I would encourage any hospital leader to visit with phlebotomists and bench techs that are doing the day-to-day job. Go and see the lab assistants that are processing the samples, ask them about their jobs and listen. When you do this, you ultimately get better service delivered to your patients. You get better financial performance when you have engaged employees. It all runs in a virtuous circle. Yes, a hospital leader being present here takes time and effort. But it also reaps a lot of rewards.
For their part, lab leaders can benefit tremendously by getting in front of their hospital C-suites and promoting how well the lab is performing. Frankly, they should be bragging about quality if it’s a standout metric or asking for help if it’s not. When I was a lab director, I made sure that my hospital leaders knew I existed and how I was performing. They knew the value of my department.
If this information is not coming to you, however, don’t hesitate to take the first step. If health system leaders talk to their lab leaders and open the conversations, it could be a 2-way street in educating each other about lab needs, expectations, and the larger strategies you may be pursuing.
"Based on my years as a health system lab director, I’d say at least a third of health system leaders aren’t truly aware of the important role labs play."