Clinical Laboratory News from North of the Border

In mid-October, Canada’s largest national conference for diag­nostics leaders took place in Toronto. It was their first gathering since the onset of the pandemic and much is happening with healthcare and medical laboratories in our northern neighbor. The Dark Report was there to identify innovative developments that might be useful to our clients and regular readers.

Presentations emphasized three themes. One important theme centered around new diagnostic technologies and how early-adopter labs in Canada were using them to improve patient care. The second theme involved reports from most of the nation’s larger provinces as to how labs in those provinces were dealing with the inadequate supply of skilled laboratory professionals, the continuing supply chain disruptions, and the way inflation is driving up the cost of both supplies and labor. The third theme dealt with public policy initiatives that involve diagnostics and might open doors for Canadian labs to add more value to physicians, patients, and provincial health authorities.

This all sounds familiar to labs on this side of the border, right? But there is an intriguing difference. Due in part to Canada’s single payer health system, since the 1990s, most provincial health authorities have diligently worked to regionalize, integrate, and standardize the different laboratory sites throughout their province.

The common goal is to squeeze out unnec­essary costs and one way to do that is to centralize testing into ever-larger core labs where possible. Another shared strategy is to harmonize lab analyzers, test menus, and laboratory information systems (LIS) wherever possible within a province.

The best illustration of this trend is happening in Quebec. In a major proj­ect named “OPTILAB,” the province is organizing its 123 laboratories into 12 clusters. This initiative launched in 2013 and is probably the single largest clinical laboratory regionalization project in the world. Each cluster is tasked to move toward common instrumentation, test method, and reference ranges across all lab sites.

Probably the most ambitious goal within OPTILAB is the adoption of a single LIS across all labs in the province. During the next six months, at least four clusters will go live with the same LIS product, provided by a certain healthcare information company based in Wisconsin.

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