Clinical research is an important tool for drug discovery, personalized medicine, and patient-centered health care. The workflow in a clinical laboratory is tedious, tasked with a myriad of responsibilities and safety checks. A typical workflow initiates with the ordering of tests and specimen collection followed by proper labeling, storage and testing of the patient specimen. Finally, the results are reviewed by the clinical lab-in-charge and the physician. The entire workflow must be executed in a way to ensure the best patient care, safety, and accuracy of the clinical test data. Meticulous management is required throughout the clinical laboratory workflow including the process of specimen collection, storage, labeling, payments, sending an invoice, and reporting of the clinical results.
Clinical laboratories are a primary source of healthcare data. With the growing complexities in the clinical industry, there is a constant urge for striking a balance between a range of competing operational and financial priorities. With the rising bio-specimen volumes, these laboratories experience a shortage of skilled technicians and are burdened with increasing cost pressures. The shrinking technologist labor pool demands the training of new human resource, which further adds to the overall operational cost of the laboratory. Meeting the increasingly rigorous regulatory requirements place additional demands of both time and expertise. Data inaccessibility further aggravates the problem faced by clinical laboratories by hindering their understanding of the full scope of their resource needs. Consequently, the generation of accurate, reliable and timely results gets compromised.
In order to improve the efficiency of clinical laboratories, it is necessary to monitor critical factors including budgets, customer satisfaction and the ability to deliver quality services. Proper workflow analysis should be applied, specifically in terms of the quality of clinical research, decision-making capability, and the management of patient data. The clinical laboratories need to visualize their processes and operations precisely to identify the bottlenecks, drill down to find the underlying root cause, and start formulating solutions. Here are the five steps that help improve the clinical laboratory workflows by increasing the flexibility, speed, intelligence, and ease of operations in the laboratory:
- Remove Data Silos: To improve a clinical laboratory workflow, it is essential that an effective coordination is ensured across all the hospital departments and the clinical laboratories to facilitate a continuous, timely and cost-effective sharing of clinically relevant information.
- Standardize Practices: Standardizing clinical laboratory practices such as data management workflows, and inter-departmental data exchange formats help reduce the errors as well as the time and cost associated with managing the data variability.
- Automate Tasks: Getting clinical LIMS to overcome the challenges faced by clinical laboratories. Automation of time-consuming, error-prone manual tasks within a laboratory helps achieve increased laboratory efficiency and result accuracy. Implementation of a LIMS helps laboratories to create a streamlined workflow for the ordering of tests, data entry of patients, testing procedure, and to obtain the right clinical outcomes. It enhances the quality and reliability of results. Cloud-based informatics system enables real-time access to data and analytics in a secured manner.
- Utilize Resources Effectively: The inefficient use of human resources should be reduced. This can be done by switching from old paper-records to a more powerful and technologically advanced paper-less data storage and management system. This also enables the precious skilled human resources to focus on higher value tasks, enabling the laboratories to counter economic challenges.
- Dashboard Performance Metrics: To manage the complexities of clinical laboratories, it is important to invest in laboratory software solutions that can provide easy access to performance metrics in the laboratory beyond turnaround times. A dashboarding system facilitates to track everyday performance and identify opportunities for process improvement at each step across multiple workflows. This helps to reduce the overhead costs while increasing the profitability and efficiency of the clinical laboratory.
In today’s scenario of healthcare integration, where the clinical laboratories are under constant pressure to enhance efficiency and reduce costs while improving patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes, it becomes necessary to identify the bottlenecks and data silos in the laboratory workflow and work coherently in the direction of improving it. Additionally, it is important that the available internal resources be utilized in the best possible manner by allowing them to focus on more important tasks. All these objectives can be seamlessly achieved by switching to a LIMS that facilitates efficient communication, addresses workflow challenges, improves economic returns, and provides the metrics to demonstrate performance.