Why Labs Operate in a ‘Duality’ during Pandemic

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HAS IT OCCURRED TO MANY OF YOU THAT YOUR CLINICAL LABORATORIES today must operate in what I will describe as an operational “duality”? 

On one side, your lab must deal with COVID-19 testing. This is true whether your lab performs molecular SARS-CoV-2 tests or simply handles specimens that you refer to other labs for testing. The need for your lab to support COVID-19 testing in some way is now a major operational requirement. 

On the other side, your lab must continue to provide all regular testing services in support of clinical care, just as it did in pre-pandemic times. In this role, your lab continues to be an indispensable provider of diagnostic services in the communities and regions it serves. 

This operational “duality” is without precedent. It means that you must manage a single clinical laboratory operation that now has two primary strategic objectives—each with very different consequences to the ongoing financial stability of your lab. This is why, since the onset of the pandemic last March, it is not business as usual for clinical labs and pathology groups. 

This duality, now in its ninth month, continues to put your lab under extreme stress in multiple ways: 

• Lab staff has experienced layoffs in the early months of the pandemic and continues working long hours to maintain SARS-CoV-2 testing, along with the regular menu of tests doctors need daily. In many labs, if the tipping point of staff burnout has not been reached, it is probably soon to happen. 

• Your lab’s supply chain is stretched to the limit and management devotes several hours daily in attempts to secure necessary quantities of tests and other supplies. Cost of supplies have zoomed, exacerbating budget woes.

• Lab analyzers, instruments, and automation are being used past the planned replacement cycle. This lowers the reliability of this vital equipment even as it is more difficult for the vendors’ service reps to access labs in hospitals and other facilities to repair malfunctioning instrument systems. 

Unfortunately, no crystal ball exists to tell us when the pandemic will pass, returning normality to healthcare and daily life. For that reason, lab executives and pathologists may find it useful to integrate this concept of organizational “duality” into operational plans. Introducing the duality concept to lab staff may also help by triggering their creativity in solving problems. 

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