Labs Face New Challenges in New Year, New Decade

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TYPICALLY, PEOPLE CELEBRATE THE ARRIVAL OF A NEW YEAR and a new decade with optimism. That should be just as true for clinical lab managers and pathologists. After all, medical laboratory testing is fundamental to how physicians diagnose disease, select the most appropriate therapies, and monitor the progress of their patients.
Yet events of recent years have not been kind to the profession of laboratory medicine, as regularly chronicled on these pages. A careful reading of the events of the 2010s would demonstrate the multiple approaches used by government and private payers to reduce what they pay for clinical lab tests and anatomic pathology services. Year-after-year, in response to cuts in the prices payers reimburse for lab tests, labs have had to figure out how to cut costs in an intelligent way to balance their budgets without compromising the quality and integrity of the lab test results they produce.
This new decade of the 2020s is predicted to be one of major transformation of healthcare in the United States. The good news for medical labs is that knowledge of the many “omes” (genome, microbiome, proteome, transcriptome, etc.) is expanding swiftly and creating new, relevant biomarkers that can be incorporated into clinical practice to improve patient care.
But the challenge for clinical labs and anatomic pathology groups will be to maintain financial stability and still have access to the capital, the information technology, and the scientific expertise needed to set up and perform these new diagnostic assays. This is not an easy path forward.
The other major challenge labs will face during the decade of the 2020s is how to evolve and support the changing needs of physicians, payers, hospitals, and patients. It is now recognized that the U.S. healthcare system needs to focus on prevention and keeping patients healthy. There is pressure for prices to be transparent to patients in advance of service.
Hospitals, physicians, and other providers are realigning their organizations to be part of an integrated clinical care pathway. Government and private payers are shifting toward value-based payment models. Such changes to this country’s healthcare system will require clinical labs and pathology groups to align their service offerings to meet these new needs.

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