Academic Hospital Lab Raises Competitive Bar

UMASS Health System Lab is moving to a new facility and implementing Web-based ordering

CEO SUMMARY: Few academic center laboratories are as swift-moving as the UMASS Health System Laboratory. In the next 90 days, it will move into a brand new off-site core laboratory. During this same 90 days, it is implementing its first web-based laboratory test ordering and results reporting installations. This flurry of activity is driven by a strategic business goal of raising the competitive bar.

FEW LABORATORIES MAINTAIN the ambitious schedule of management initiatives that is common at UMASS/Memorial Health System Laboratories (UMMHSL) in Worcester, Massachusetts.

“It’s a little crazy to build a new clinical lab and occupy the facility at the same time that we are implementing Web-based lab test ordering and results reporting,” declared Michael Snyder, M.D., Chief of Hospital Labs at UMMHSL.

Would Rather Set The Pace

“But our philosophy is that time must not be wasted. If we don’t do it first, our competitors will,” he added. “And we would rather set the pace than find ourselves having to run even harder just to catch up.”

The new core laboratory facility came about as a result of the merger two years ago of the UMASS Medical Center/University Hospital with cross-town rival Worcester Memorial Hospital. The combined healthcare system involves more than 700 beds, plus a large number of affiliated physicians. The new lab should be completed in April, with move-in scheduled for May 2000.

“Because of the proximity of the two hospitals and the great success of our laboratory outreach sales program, a new off-site clinical laboratory made economic sense,” observed Dr. Snyder. “It gave us the opportunity to build the laboratory infrastructure needed to support our current rate of growth.

“Economics was also the reason behind our decision to roll out Web-based lab test ordering and results reporting,” noted Dr. Snyder. “We’ve been using Metricom, Inc.’s test ordering/reporting product on our health system’s intranet for several years. It was already a client/server-type of product.

“Advances to Internet technology now make it cost-effective for us to go to our outreach clients and replace expensive T-1 and ISDN phone lines with less expensive connections,” he explained. “Clients will use a Web-browser to connect to our Metricom system to order lab tests and retrieve results.

“In addition to lowering our costs, the Web-based version includes medical necessity features, ABNs, and compliance checkers. It also can handle scheduling for nursing homes and sup- plies ordering,” he continued. “Our first lab users to get the Web-based version will be using most of these features.

“We’ve worked for three years to enhance the capabilities of our lab information system. We recognized early-on that the Internet would change, for the better, many aspects of laboratory medicine and outreach testing services. We intend to use our Internet-based information system capabilities to roll out a variety of sophisticated laboratory services,” explained Dr. Snyder.

Academic Center Edge

Dr. Snyder is referring to the competitive edge that his academic center gives him in the healthcare marketplace. “Wave one in our business plan is to get our lab clients to use the Web-based system for lab test ordering and results reporting,” he said. “Wave two involves delivering educational and clinical added-value services to our lab users.

“Specifically, we think our laboratory can be the delivery vehicle to provide relevant continuing education to our physician-clients,” continued Dr. Snyder. “We expect that increased familiarity with the Internet will lead to increased email exchanges between our laboratory directors and the clinicians.

“Best of all, the cost to provide these services will be minimal. The Internet really levels the playing field and allows my academic laboratory to use its full resources to compete in the marketplace against the commercial laboratories,” enthused Dr. Snyder.

Metricom, located in Weymouth, Massachusetts, is the vendor supporting UMMHSL. “Although we’ve been working with the UMASS Health System for a number of years, what makes this laboratory project different is that it’s the lab which is driving these enhancements,” stated Anne Wood, Vice President at Metricom.

First Operational Sites

“The first operational sites will use our thin client product, accessed by a Web browser,” continued Wood. “These will be mostly affiliated hospitals and network physicians.

“One interesting application of the ASP-Web browser model is with Dr. Snyder’s prison accounts,” she noted. “With existing traditional client lab information systems, traveling to the prisons to do upgrades and service to the system is time-consuming and expensive, partly due to prison security requirements. Using the thin client with a Web browser cuts the cost of servicing these accounts substantially, while at the same time greatly reducing the number of support calls needed by that prison client.”

In helping the UMASS Health System laboratory to simultaneously build and occupy a new core laboratory while implementing Web-based lab test ordering and results reporting, Dr. Snyder’s leadership demonstrates that even academic center laboratories can be fast-reacting to market developments.

Stronger Lab Competitor

As Dr. Snyder’s comments indicate, he and his lab manager, Paul Defilippi, view these developments as opportunities to be exploited in the marketplace. With this attitude, and equipped with a new, state-of-the-art, front-end automated core lab, UMASS Health System Laboratory will certainly become a stronger competitor for lab business in central Massachusetts.

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