DURING 2012, THE HEALTHCARE SYSTEM IN THE UNITED STATES will make measurable progress toward the goal of integrated clinical care. In my view, this will be a positive development for clinical laboratories, since it creates opportunities for labs to step up and add value to physicians, patients, and payers.
There is a bubbling stew of ingredients that will contribute to more integration of clinical care. Growing numbers of hospitals and office-based physicians are adopting electronic health records (EHR). As they do, they want their laboratories to interface the LIS to their EHR systems. This is a significant development. Once all of a patient’s data can flow seamlessly across the care continuum—accompanied by computer prompts and reminders to physicians and the care team—the gaps in medical care begin to disappear.
Other ingredients include the advent of accountable care organizations (ACO), the expanding number of health information (HIE) exchanges that are becoming operational, and greater transparency on provider outcomes and prices. All of these forces for change are in motion today. How quickly we see today’s predominately fee-for-service healthcare system transform into something different is difficult to predict. It will be a multi-year process and is likely to be more evolutionary than revolutionary.
Within every laboratory, there are administrators and pathologists who are tasked to be the strategic thinkers for their organizations. My recommendation to these individuals is that integration of clinical care should be a key element in their labs’ strategic priorities.
In particular, the product that every laboratory creates is information. Thus, integration of healthcare informatics—whether from the use of a common electronic medical record (EMR) system within an integrated healthcare system, or provider support for the regional HIE—has the potential to disrupt the long- standing relationship that a laboratory has traditionally enjoyed as a primary source of lab testing to its client physicians.
But, this same disruptive force will open a door for those lab organizations that understand how to deliver added value to each group of stakeholders: physicians, patients, and payers. With the trend toward clinical care integration in its earliest stages, there is an ample amount of time for innovative clinical labs and pathology groups to develop the value-added services that will anchor long-lasting and profitable relationships with physicians and their patients.