The global clinical laboratory market is projected to grow 74% between 2019 and 2027 to $404 billion, according to a new report from Transparency Market Research. The rise in infectious disease testing accounts for the largest percentage increase.
North America continues to dominate the global market—a trend that’s expected to continue, driven by testing for different types of cancer and an aging population.
Hospitals and health systems that don’t consider their clinical laboratories profit centers could be missing out on significant revenues, increased loyalty from community physicians and productivity gains from higher utilization of hospital laboratory staff and equipment.
An integrated laboratory platform that easily connects a hospital or health system to participating providers can be the hub of a connected diagnostic journey.
Technology disconnects fracture care process
Decades ago, hospitals often performed clinical laboratory work for the physicians in their communities. But the paradigm slowly shifted over time, fueled by the rise of national testing laboratories.
Over the same period, hospitals, physician practices, ambulatory surgical centers, and other local providers adopted electronic records and practice management systems, many of which didn’t “speak” with each other. This disconnect created substantial barriers as the patient moved from one care setting to the next, from physician office to outpatient laboratory, and from laboratory to obtaining test results.
It also created barriers between hospitals and community providers. The fax machine, which requires manual workflows to process, continues as a primary communication method between providers, lab orders must be keyed into the laboratory management system, then results sent to the ordering physician—often by return fax.
To maximize productivity, hospitals must connect with community providers to transmit electronic orders and results back and forth, but connecting to individual practices is costly, cumbersome, and not a priority for hospital and health system IT departments. What’s needed is a laboratory management platform with a single integration that allows the necessary electronic communication workflows among patients, providers and testing sites.
Pent-up demand for testing services
The importance of laboratory testing in modern healthcare cannot be overestimated. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 70% of medical decisions are dependent on laboratory testing results.
That’s why hospitals maintain on-premise laboratories, to obtain immediate results for emergent medical conditions at all hours of the day and night. But 24/7/365 access carries considerable costs for personnel and underused equipment.
Hospital profit margins, already in the single digits before the pandemic, slipped into negative territory during the last Omicron surge. In January, the average operating margin was -3.3%—even with federal CARES funding designed to blunt the negative effects of the global pandemic. Higher expenses for personnel and supplies, the temporary halt of nonurgent tests and procedures, and fewer inpatients were blamed for the decline.
There’s also a pent-up demand for medical appointments, including clinical laboratory testing. A recent national survey shows that nearly one-third of adults 50 and older postponed or cancelled a healthcare appointment for pandemic-related reasons. Three-quarters had delayed primary care visits, with 72% delaying tests and procedures. More troubling is the fact that 22% had not yet rescheduled physician visits and 26% had not rescheduled tests or procedures.
Hospitals and health systems can partner with local physicians to facilitate testing, smoothing the patient journey, increasing satisfaction with the care experience and helping hospital profitability.
Ideal patient testing journey
A robust laboratory testing platform can enable the clinical testing process while readily connecting patients to providers and facilities.
Imagine a scenario where a physician orders a test, asking the patient to scan a QR code with a smartphone or using a provided tablet to input patient information, provide contact information and sign necessary consents. After completing the process, the patient receives a link to track the lab process and receive results (if authorized by the physician). The process is similar to using an app for food delivery, where users can track whether the meal has left the restaurant and where the driver is in relation to the destination.
If authorized, the patient receives a notice that the results are ready and can view them. In cases of sensitive, potentially life-altering tests, the physician can opt to view them first and either release results or contact the patient.
The patient benefits are obvious—visibility into the testing process without the need to contact a physician for results—but physician practices also can see improvements in productivity. Office staff interact with a simple portal to track testing for all patients, download results to the practice management system and more. Staff save time because patients self-register for tests, eliminating the need for filling out and faxing forms to the lab.
Besides shifting testing volume to their facilities, hospitals and health systems reduce manual data entry associated with a traditional lab. Depending on the test, insurance companies may require specific documents that must accompany the test. Because the patient completes the authorizations up front, the necessary documentation is readily accessible. IT involvement in integration would be minimal.
Self-service becoming the norm
Technology is transforming entire industries, and healthcare is no exception. Eighty-five percent of Americans own a smartphone, including 95% of people 49 and younger, according to the Pew Research Center. Consumers are accustomed to self-serve options to buy items online, order food delivery and much more.
Asking consumers to fill out laboratory forms and receive results electronically is not only acceptable, it’s likely the preferred method for an increasing number of patients. An integrated laboratory testing platform can drive benefits for patients, providers and hospitals.
Photo: appledesign, Getty Images