EMR Links as Labs’ Next Competitive Advantage

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WE ARE CAREFULLY TRACKING THE ACCEPTANCE AND USE of electronic medical record (EMR) systems by office-based physicians. It is an important trend, one that is both an opportunity and a threat for regional laboratories.

As you will read on pages 3-6, once physicians install and begin to use EMR in their daily practice, literally the first ancillary service they want is a direct electronic feed of laboratory test results into the EMR. Then, as physicians grow familiar with working with the EMR, they next want the ability to electronically order tests from their EMR.

It is no surprise, then, that independent labs and hospital laboratory outreach programs are beginning to spend money to create electronic interface gateways between their laboratory information system (LIS) and the EMRs of their physician-clients. The depth and breadth of this trend was confirmed at the special LIS-EMR Interface Gateway program at the Executive War College last May in Miami.

This presents an opportunity for regional labs. As clients implement an EMR, the laboratory provider must be ready to create the electronic bridge that allows the seamless transmission of laboratory orders and lab test results back and forth between the EMR and the LIS. As labs succeed in this, they have a strengthened relationship with each client—a relationship that adds value to the physician and makes it tougher for competing labs to win that account.

The threat is simple. Failure by regional labs to respond to clients’ needs for direct EMR-LIS ordering and results reporting will cause the client to seek another laboratory which can provide such electronic interface gateways.

There are two labs in the United States which understand this fundamental strategic shift: Laboratory Corporation of America and Quest Diagnostics Incorporated. As one software wonk told us, “The two national labs are all over this right now—integrating their LISs to EMRs.” In fact, this is a perfect example of how economies of scale and national reach provide the two blood brothers with competitive advantage. Each national lab has ample resources to invest in writing the code to connect their informatics systems to every major EMR vendor’s product. Regional labs should pay heed to this strategic shift in the marketplace. Because the largest medical groups are first to implement EMRs, it is the regional labs’ biggest clients who will be first to ask for direct LIS-EMR lab ordering and results reporting.

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