New Trends Reshaping Healthcare, Lab Testing

Front and center this year: staff/supply shortages, artificial intelligence, digital pathology, and more

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Robert-L-Michel

CEO SUMMARY: With an emphasis on strategic actions clinical lab and anatomic pathology leaders can take immediately, the Executive War College Conference on Laboratory and Pathology Management returns on April 27-28 in New Orleans. Participants will learn what post-pandemic changes to expect in the medical lab industry and what steps executives can take to offer the latest diagnostic technologies while generating revenue from new sources. 

WITH THE REMNANTS OF THE SARS-COV-2 OMICRON SURGE FADING, business travel budgets recovering, and people feeling more comfortable gathering in crowds, the stage is set to welcome back clinical laboratory leaders to the The Dark Report’s annual Executive War College on Laboratory and Pathology Management, which takes place on April 27-28 in New Orleans. 

This is our 27th conference, and it will be one of the clinical lab profession’s first opportunities this year to gather and learn what has changed in healthcare and the clinical laboratory testing marketplace as a consequence of the two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic. The most visible impact today is the ongoing supply chain shortage and the serious shortage of qualified professionals to fully staff hospitals, physician offices, clinical laboratories, and anatomic pathology groups. 

“Obtaining adequate supplies and lab staff is certainly a daily stress for lab administrators and pathologists, and several speakers will share their innovative solutions to respond to both issues,” stated Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of The Dark Report and founder of the Executive War College. “However, there are equally powerful forces of change altering how providers, payers, patients, and consumers access lab testing services and pay for those services. 

“In fact, healthcare experts point out that the pandemic itself did not fundamentally change healthcare in this country,” Michel continued. “Rather, they say the pandemic accelerated the adoption of trends already underway prior to the outbreak. 

“For example, use of telehealth and virtual physician visits have exploded,” he observed. “Today, a large proportion of physicians and patients are comfortable with a virtual office visit. This presents an immediate problem for clinical laboratories because—when the patient gets a lab test order from a doctor during a virtual exam—the lab needs a way to access that patient to collect the specimens required to perform the tests.

Innovations in Lab Logistics

“Already, new companies are springing up to give clinical labs a way to access that telehealth patient and collect lab specimens that are then transported to the central laboratory,” Michel noted. “This is just one aspect of the important ways the pandemic accelerated adoption of existing trends in clinical care.”

At the current pace of registrations, attendance is expected to be back to pre-pandemic levels, with 850 or more attendees. “This is a significant fact,” Michel declared. “Everybody’s ‘been there and done that’ with COVID-19. They are ready to return to live conferences, hear about the most important developments in clinical lab and pathology, and network with their peers.”

Consumer Access to Care

Another important trend involves how consumers are accessing care differently. “The pandemic made consumers familiar with two aspects of diagnostics testing,” he said. “First, large numbers of consumers have bought their own COVID-19 rapid tests. They found that it was easy to buy and use these kits. 

“Second, many consumers are now comfortable collecting their own specimen and returning it to the lab for testing,” Michel added. “In turn, this is fueling consumer demand for self-ordered testing and at-home rapid tests. Clinical lab companies serving the direct-to-consumer (DTC) test market say patients are more adept at administering certain tests for common illnesses, such as influenza.” 

Several sessions at the Executive War College will focus on meeting these evolving consumer needs—not only self-ordered tests—but also where patients are choosing to receive primary care services. 

Trends have already begun that will bring more consumers to their local retail pharmacy instead of their doctor’s office for routine exams and point-of-care testing. (See TDR, “Newsmaker Interview: Labs, Pharmacies Learn from Each Other as Barriers Drop,” Jan. 31, 2022.)

The fastest-moving trend may be the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) across almost every aspect of clinical care and operational functions in hospitals, physicians’ offices, and clinical labs. This is especially true of AI-based services in digital pathology and in lab coding, billing, and collections. 

AI Developments for Labs

“The use of artificial intelligence is growing across a wide span of activities in healthcare, particularly in diagnosis,” Michel explained. “There are numerous companies developing AI-powered solutions for the analysis of digital pathology images. The FDA has already cleared one product, and expectations are that a surge of applications for FDA review of AI-powered digital pathology analysis products will be forthcoming.” (See TDR, “First Digital Path AI Tool Cleared for Market by FDA,” Sept. 27, 2021.)

Speakers at the 27th annual Executive War College Conference will not only delve into the role of artificial intelligence in digital pathology, but also into how AI influences other areas of clinical laboratory operations, including revenue cycle management and automation. 

Because of lockdown and travel restrictions over the past two years, significant changes have taken place in how labs comply with the requirements of the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) and how the deeming organizations conduct the required assessments of clinical laboratories and pathology groups.

To help lab professionals tasked with this compliance requirement, there will be a CLIA accreditation-themed panel discussion featuring directors from the College of American Pathologists, The Joint Commission, and COLA. At one time and place, lab managers can learn how each accreditor is innovating in response to the pandemic. This session will also focus on best practices to maintain continuous survey readiness and explore top survey deficiencies.

Under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988, a lab must be inspected every two years by an authority that is deemed to review the lab on behalf of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

“This is the first time that three of the CLIA deeming organizations will appear at the Executive War College during the same session to share insights about the most common deficiencies and how CLIA inspections are being conducted because of COVID-19,” Michel explained.

Additional Key Topics

Other valuable session topics that will be presented include:

  • Latest legal developments involving compliance regulations. 
  • How clinical laboratories can better handle staffing shortages and recruiting challenges that stem from the “Great Resignation.” 
  • Post-pandemic strategies for hospital laboratory outreach programs that build specimen volume and bring in additional revenue. 
  • Managed care panel that identifies effective ways for labs to add value to earn additional revenue from insurers. 
  • Sessions on proven ways to be paid for COVID-19 and genetic test claims. 

“It’s important for clinical lab executives to recognize that—as intense as it was to manage a lab during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021—rapid advances in technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual meetings, and next-generation genome sequencing are each game-changers in their own right,” Michel noted. “These technologies are at work today, changing the way hospitals deliver care, physicians treat patients, and consumers access lab tests.

“Collectively, these are reasons why every lab organization should have their managers and best strategic thinkers attend this year’s Executive War College on April 27-28,” Michel concluded. “This is the time and place for them to learn from the profession’s best innovators and gain insights they’ll need to keep their laboratories at the cutting edge of clinical excellence in a financially sustainable manner.”

Contact Robert Michel at 512-264-7104 or rmichel@darkreport.com.

COVID Precautions Will Continue at EWC

AS THE NUMBER OF DAILY NEW COVID-19 CASES DROPS thanks to slowing of the Omicron variant surge, organizers of the 27th annual Executive War College on Laboratory and Pathology Management continue to fine-tune health and safety measures for attendees. 

“It’s important all those attending this year’s event know that screening COVID-19 protocols will be in place to ensure the health and safety of all participants,” said Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of The Dark Report and founder of the Executive War College. “We did a large lab conference in the fall of 2021 that included protocols for COVID-19 and the attendees told us they appreciated the protection provided by those protocols.”

The Executive War College takes place April 27-28 in New Orleans. It will follow updated COVID-19 guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with any state and local directives in effect as of April 27. Visit www.ExecutiveWarCollege.com to review the latest COVID-19 safety protocols for the gathering.

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