Internet as Threat and Opportunity for Labs

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ITS BEEN A WHILE SINCE THIS CRUSTY CURMUDGEON WEIGHED IN ON technology changes with the potential to reshape laboratory services as we know them today. However, things are changing and today I’d like to call your attention to certain developments with the Internet and comment on their potential to trigger change in our industry.

Many of you are noticing the evolution in the way people use the Web. I believe we may be seeing the “first generation Internet” now yielding to a “second generation Internet.” In the first generation, the Internet was rather simple. Businesses and people built their Web sites. The Internet allowed others to come and view those Web sites. The Internet was a big network that enabled people to find and visit sources of information that were useful to them. The personal computer (PC), however, was typically where the user downloaded the information and then interacted with it.

That’s changing rapidly on today’s Internet. Don Tapscott, CEO of New Paradigm, a think tank, writes that “increasingly computers and people can cooperate and intersect in richer ways across the Internet…We’ve seen the advent of Internet-connected mobile devices, the proliferation of broadband connections, the rise of collaborative software, and the increasing penetration of Internet-connected computer power into everyday objects, from cars to light switches.”

For the second generation Internet, Tapscott’s theme is “collaboration.” He observes that the Internet is evolving from a place where firms present information into an actual computing platform itself. Certainly we see early signs of this in clinical laboratories. More and more lab instruments come equipped to connect to the Internet, either by wire or wireless. These instruments can interact in real time with the LIS, their manufacturer, and other software modules (think middleware).

Because laboratories are information factories, a collaborative, second-generation Internet that is itself a computing platform represents both a threat and an opportunity. As providers, payers, employers, and patients find ways to use this more-sophisticated Internet in useful ways, laboratories will be a rich source of both the raw data and the laboratory medicine know-how on how to best use that data. Labs that enable these new uses will maintain and increase their relevance to the healthcare system.

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