Clinical Labs Have the Opportunity to Deliver Value

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FOR DECADES, PATHOLOGISTS AND CLINICAL LABORATORY PROFESSIONALS have called attention to the single most powerful resource possessed by their lab organizations: patient lab test data.

Everyone in lab medicine is familiar with the oft-repeated statement that the cost of lab testing is about 3¢ to 5¢ on the healthcare dollar, but lab test data is involved in 60% to 70% of all critical decisions involving diagnosis and selection of therapies, as well as—in hospital settings—decisions on therapy, and whether to admit or discharge. Ironically, there has never been a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal that uses data collected and analyzed by a team of researchers to prove or disprove this statement! (Hint to all lab professionals: if you conducted such a study, publication of your peer-reviewed finding would immediately become a foundational document that influences payers, healthcare policymakers, and even elected officials tasked with establishing coverage guidelines for federal and state health programs.)

From the onset of the pandemic, the power of lab test data was front and center in the public eye. It is the COVID-19 test result that not only guides clinicians on the diagnosis and treatment of the individual, but informs public health officials about whether the outbreak is spreading or retreating, which communities are experiencing surges, and whether new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus are surfacing and where.

Even the news media is learning about lab testing. Journalists are writing stories about genetic testing, rapid molecular SARS-CoV-2 tests, and the complexities of seriological testing, including what differentiates antibody tests from antigen tests and why sensitivity and specificity can change with disease prevalence.

These unique circumstances make the time ripe for Clinical Lab 2.0. The opportunity exists for clinical laboratory professionals to go beyond simply reporting an accurate test result within the target turnaround time. Now is when pathologists can combine lab test data with other clinical, demographic, and geographical data sets to create actionable intelligence that accomplishes two goals: better patient outcomes and reduced cost of care.

Labs that can fulfill the promise of Clinical Lab 2.0 in this way will be rewarded with additional reimbursement, along with new respect for their contribution to improving healthcare.

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