This is the first in's In My Opinion series - a variety of posts curated by our Advisory Board members focusing on their opinions about healthcare today.

HCR_headerWhen the government passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2009, it set three concurrent goals for the healthcare system. The first was to improve the healthcare experience, not only for the patient but also for the provider and medical professionals involved. The second was to build a system of preventative care, in which the goal of healthcare is not only to treat the sick but to actually keep people from becoming ill. The third goal of the ACA was to reduce per capita healthcare costs, starting with Medicare and Medicaid. The challenge had been set for the healthcare system: start saving money, keep people healthy, and manage time more effectively.

But how is healthcare supposed to reach these goals? How is an inherently broken system going to reinvent itself? And how can labs play a critical role in this reinvention?

The answer may surprise some people. Labs need to become strategic partners with healthcare providers in order to survive in the marketplace. Labs and physicians can no longer exist in separate spheres - they need to be in sync across the board. Labs often fail to provide timely feedback to clients regarding the tests they order, resulting in the overutilization of unnecessary tests and the underutilization of data that could provide insight into a patient's status and facilitate a quicker path to diagnosis. In medical school and during resident training, student physicians spend only a modicum of time learning which tests to order in a specific clinical scenario. As a result, laboratory test orders are oftentimes too broad and all-inclusive or not specific enough to be relevant to the patient at hand.

Since healthcare is transitioning from fee-for-service to patient-centric, fee-for-value reimbursement, providers cannot afford to order tests that are not the most effective for interpreting a set of clinical findings. This is where labs can step in and establish their value to doctors - by working with them to establish appropriate, meaningful, and cost-effective testing algorithms that fit certain clinical pathways.

WebWhen focused communication between the lab and provider is effective, patient satisfaction dramatically improves. The laboratory provides nearly 70% of the data in a patients EMR and has become a major data warehouse in the healthcare system.

Oftentimes, testing on patients is redundant amongst physicians who see specific patients because there is little interoffice collaboration or communication. If, for example, a patient needs to visit his primary care physician, a radiologist, and a pulmonologist, they may inadvertently order the same or at least overlapping test profiles because they simply do not have ready access to the patient's EMR. The end result in this situation is a waste of scarce healthcare resources as well as the physician and patient's time (and blood).

With the® Healthcare Relationship Cloud™, labs have access to real-time test data and metrics extracted from the Laboratory Information System (LIS). Armed with these analytics, laboratorians can impact physician test ordering practices and add value to their relationship with the provider.

This value is felt across the entire healthcare organization, from the patient to the physician to the decision makers of the ACO or Physician Practice Organization. Healthcare executives with access to dashboards and analytics from can facilitate changes across their entire organization, resulting in better patient outcomes, satisfied physician providers, and more fiscally responsible healthcare organizations.

When labs can deliver superior value through lab data analytics and become a trusted strategic partner with their physician base, the healthcare system is on the right track to accomplishing the goals set by the ACA.

Doug King is a consultant at King Consulting, LLC. He was previously Senior Academic at Biostorage Technologies and Vice President of Research at DCL Medical Laboratories in Indianapolis, IN.

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