IT IS PROBABLY SAFE TO ASSUME THAT MOST OF YOU RECOGNIZE that the American healthcare system is about to undergo its most extensive transformation of the past 50 years. For better or for worse, we are about to see the end of medicine dominated by fee-for-service reimbursement and a fragmented delivery system.
What is predicted to take its place is a medical system in which clinical care is fully integrated and supported by an equally-integrated health informatics backbone. This has important strategic and operational consequences for both clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups.
As an ancillary service, the laboratory testing profession has been very good at serving independent provider organizations. Across healthcare today, probably no single clinical service is as good as laboratories at serving hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of physicians’ offices, nursing homes, and other categories of health providers.
Since the mid-1980s, it has been clinical laboratory organizations which were consistently first to introduce enhanced information technology services. It is the lab industry that made it faster, easier, and more productive for providers to use advanced information technology to order laboratory tests, accept the lab test results, and access the laboratory test data of their patients.
Now we are about to see the widespread adoption of accountable care organizations (ACO), medical homes, and similar models of integrated care. Hospitals and health systems are buying up physician practices. Health insurers are also purchasing physician groups. Collectively, all of these unfolding trends portend big changes in how providers utilize clinical laboratory testing.
I predict that the clinical labs and pathology groups which enjoy the greatest success during this major reconfiguration of the American healthcare system will be those which are good at using information technology to multiply the value of the lab testing services they provide daily to physicians.
That should be no surprise. Along with innovations in health informatics, it has been the nation’s medical labs that regularly introduce new diagnostic technologies that allow physicians to make faster, more accurate diagnoses, then select the best therapies. In my view, the successful lab organizations during this transformation of American healthcare will be those that leverage informatics and new diagnostic technology to deliver added value as providers undergo their own integration into ACOs, medical homes, and the like.