CEO SUMMARY: Patient focus groups told HealthPartners that they had anxiety as they waited days for lab test results. That encouraged HealthPartners to redesign workflows in its pathology department. Once it could deliver same-day lab test results electronically, HealthPartners launched a unique marketing campaign to educate consumers about this benefit in early May. Already, HealthPartners reports a 28% increase in the number of patients going online to access their lab test results.
DELIVERING LABORATORY TEST RESULTS quickly is giving HealthPartners in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a competitive advantage. The large integrated delivery system is finding that patients want to get their lab test results within 24 hours or less. HealthPartners expects that it will attract new patients this year because of its ability to deliver same-day lab results.
To capitalize on its speedy lab test turnaround times to patients and their physicians, HealthPartners launched a unique advertising campaign that, among other things, includes two characters, one dressed as a urine sample container and the other as a syringe, to attend public events in the Twin Cities to alert consumers that they can get their lab results fast when they come to HealthPartners.
For lab directors and pathologists, this unique promotional effort demonstrates the steady shift in the healthcare marketplace that brings consumers front and center. HealthPartners, after studying consumer wants and behaviors, recognized that its ability to deliver speedy lab tests was something it could use to distinguish itself from other health providers in Minneapolis and attract new patients.
Moreover, speedy lab test turnaround time is just one element in how HealthPartners’ laboratory division is revamping its operational focus. “Right now, pathologists are in a position to assist the healthcare system to be more efficient,” explained Douglas A. Olson, M.D., Medical Director of HealthPartners’ central laboratory and Assistant Medical Director for Clinical Laboratory Medicine. “The traditional focus of laboratory services has not been on the pre-test and the post-test interval.
Improving Turnaround Times
“However, at HealthPartners, we are now focusing on how lab testing affects other aspects of healthcare delivery,” he noted. “This is part of the natural evolution of pathology, which encourages us to think about all the steps and processes involved from the time a physician conceives of the test to the time the test result is in the patient’s hands.”
HealthPartners created its unique advertising campaign, emphasizing speedy lab test reporting, in response to three key factors. First, Minneapolis has a highly competitive healthcare market, dominated by large multispecialty clinic systems. Thus, any competitive edge can generate increased patients and market share.
Anxiety About Lab Results
Second, in conducting focus groups, HealthPartners learned that many patients are anxious about their lab test results and do not want to wait for them. The third factor was the interest HealthPartners had in increasing patient use of online services that are part of its electronic medical record, and leveraging that feature to gain a competitive advantage. Among other benefits, patients who sign up for online services can view their test results on a secure, personalized Website, often within 24 hours or less. By contrast, those patients who do not sign up get their results through the mail, a process that takes days rather than hours.
Responding to focus group insights that patients did not want to wait for their lab test results, HealthPartners introduced a new marketing campaign in May specifically to advertise the fact that patients who use online services could get their laboratory test results within 24 hours. It created
two characters. One is called Petey P. Cup, who is a cartoon character in the form of a urine specimen collection cup (with lid) who touts the message, “Get Same-Day Test Results. HealthPartners.com.” The other character is Pokey, a walking syringe with the message “Verify and print immunization records anytime.”
HealthPartners tells THE DARK REPORT that the campaign is producing results. “The primary goal of the campaign is to increase patient use of our Web site, explained Larrissa Rodriguez, HealthPartners’ Director of Care Delivery Marketing. “When we started this campaign on May 19, about 14% of our patients were registered to use the online services on our Web site. After just a few weeks, that has increased to 18%! Our goal is to get 40% of our patients using online services by year’s end. We see steady increase in the number of patients registering to get their results online.”
The campaign’s success is partly due to the efforts of HealthPartners’ pathologists to improve workflow in the laboratory. “In the past several years, we have worked diligently to improve turnaround time,” stated Olson. “The last piece needed to speed up delivery of laboratory test results to patients was implementation of electronic medical records that patients could access via the Internet.”
The organization of laboratory testing within the HealthPartners system is designed with an eye to speeding delivery of results to physicians and their patients. “Each of the 30 medical clinics associated with HealthPartners has a laboratory on site,” noted Olson. “Our courier system picks up three times daily from these sites and delivers specimens to our central laboratory.
“If a lab test result is needed within four hours, we do a point-of-care (POC) test at the clinic site,” he added. “If the test result is needed the same day, we can do it afternoon or evening at the centralized laboratory. Because of the EMR, test results are available very rapidly.
“We did two major changes in recent years to improve lab test turnaround time and improve productivity in the lab,” he continued. “One change involved restructuring the courier system so that specimens get to the laboratory in a timely manner. A second change was structuring the centralized laboratory so that its operational hours meshed with those of the medical clinics. For example, all the clinics and the central laboratory open at the same time every morning. However, because laboratory work to support the clinics is largely done in the afternoon and evening, we’ve adjusted staff levels in the laboratory to ensure laboratory testing is done quickly throughout the day.
“The next big gain in improving lab test TAT was availability of the electronic medical record,” he said. “It allows our laboratory to electronically deliver lab tests results to the EMR patient files in real time. That has greatly reduced average lab test reporting times.
“It is common now for a patient to see a HealthPartners’ doctor in the morning, then use the Web to access online services to see those results that afternoon,” observed Olson. “That’s a big win for patient safety. After all, it is the patient who has the greatest interest in his/her test results and when you get those test results to the patient, you’ve eliminated one opportunity for that information to fall between the cracks.
“At HealthPartners, our laboratory is proud of how it has reduced average turn-around time for reporting lab test results, while maintaining a high quality of laboratory testing services,” added Olson. “That is why point-of-care testing is incorporated in our service mix. For specific assays, we may determine that the POC test is more expensive than the test done in the central lab, but if it improves the quality of care received by the patient, then we will implement the POC test with appropriate utilization guidelines.”
POC Testing For Hemaglobin
Olson described developing a system to do point-of-care testing of hemoglobin A1c at some clinics as an example. “Currently, we have a couple of clinic sites offering a point-of-care hemoglobin A1c test,” he noted. “This creates a significant clinical and service benefit.
“Assume that it took the patient three to six weeks to get an appointment to see the diabetes specialist,” continued Olson. “Both the patient and the physician want the HbA1c results during that visit so that the proper diagnosis can be made and appropriate treatment can be started. Anything less than that is a waste of time for the diabetes specialist, the patient, and the healthcare system. We believe the economics of the overall healthcare encounter support the lab’s decision to offer that more expensive POC test to the clinician.
Calculating All Benefits
“For example, assume that the marginal cost to perform a hemaglobin A1c test in the central laboratory is under $5 and assume that the POC HbA1c test costs no more than $20,” theorized Olson. “Certainly it is more expensive to support POC testing. But, for the difference in lab test costs of about $15, this individual patient and the attending physician get the information they need on the first visit. This saves the system the cost of a follow-up visit—when the core lab’s HbA1c result is available. Those savings are significantly greater than the additional cost of the POC hemglobin A1c test.”
THE DARK REPORT observes that Olson and his staff are on the cutting edge of a significant development in the lab business. First, his parent health organization, HealthPartners, has recognized how the laboratory can play a role in: 1) providing more patient-friendly clinical services; 2) boosting the quality of care; and, 3) contributing to a reduced cost per healthcare encounter. That means administration is ready to support some of the laboratory’s needs for capital and projects to improve productivity and performance.
Second, the laboratory division at HealthPartners is looking externally for opportunities to deliver value-added services. One external opportunity is make laboratory test results available more quickly to patients. Another external opportunity is to contribute to a lower overall cost per healthcare encounter by enabling and supporting point-of-care hemoglobin A1c testing in clinics.
These are all attributes that will be common in hospital/health system laboratories as the American healthcare system continues to evolve toward patient-focused, patient-facing services. The laboratory at HealthPartners is already moving down that path.
Another unique aspect of this story is the willingness of HealthPartners to organize one primary theme of its consumer marketing campaign around faster patient access to laboratory test results. Although it is uncommon to see hospitals and health systems advertise fast access to laboratory test results today, that may soon change.
After all, consumers in the Twin Cities are proving that they will respond to an opportunity to receive improved lab testing services. As noted above, in the weeks since the mid-May launch of the HealthPartners’ unique advertising campaign, it has generated a noteworthy 28% increase in patient use of its online services, including access to laboratory test results.
Meet Petey P. Cup (left) and Pokey the Syringe (below):
Created as part of a promotional campaign by HealthPartners, these two characters can be seen at public events in the Twin Cities, promoting speedy access to lab test results and immunization records. You can even purchase Petey and Pokey merchandise, including a Pokey baseball jersey for your kids, a $15 Petey P. Cup yard sign, and an $11 Petey P. Cup clock. Petey P. Cup even has his own YouTube video!
HealthPartners Focused on Workflow to Improve Turnaround Times for Laboratory Test Reports
HEALTHPARTNERS HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL in attracting new patients in the past several weeks because it has a winning combination of a successful advertising campaign and fast turnaround times from its pathologists.
Joe Dangor, a spokesman forHealthPartners, said lab turnaround times (TAT) are extremely important to patients. “In recent years our health system has devoted considerable resources to re-engneering the workflows that support online services. Laboratory services is one department involved in these projects,” he explained. “We believe same-day test results can be a significant differentiator for us in our market. Our competitors also have online services. We believe our work-flows make us more efficient, however, and we think consumers will notice that difference.
“In focus groups with patients, we learned that wondering about lab test results causes quite a bit of anxiety,” noted Dangor. “Typically, a patient visits the doctor, has a test done, then waits several days for the results.
“We learned from our focus group members that patients want to know their results right away,” he added. “They don’t want to wait for several days for these results.
“Our efforts to produce same-day test results is generating great benefits,” he continued. “Last week, one of our doctors told us a story that demonstrates how technology is changing our lives—and how patients are using Web access to their lab test results. The doctor had a patient who needed to be re-tested. She was sent to the laboratory to provide a specimen, then returned to the doctor’s office to review the results with her doctor.
Unique Marketing Campaign Emphasizes Speedy Access to Lab Test Results for Consumers
FOR HEALTHPARTNERS, the positive results of its new advertising campaign to consumers is a winning outcome.
“There have been some great reactions to this marketing campaign since it launched in early May,” said Larrissa Rodriguez, Director of Care Delivery Marketing for HealthPartners, an inte- grated delivery system in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “This is rewarding because healthcare marketing is not known for being very creative.
“In Minneapolis, we compete against several other big healthcare systems, such as Allina, Park Nicollet, and Fairview,” she continued. “Each has lots of similarities in terms of size and what is offered. That is why we wanted our marketing campaign to deliver a message that makes us stand out with consumers in this community.
“Once HealthPartners had its electronic medical record (EMR) system in place last year, we saw the opportunity to educate patients about the benefits of accessing online services via the Web,” she explained. “To emphasize immediate access to lab test results, we created Petey P. Cup, the pee cup who explains to consumers in a memorable way that about 90% of our lab test results are available to them online within 24 hours.
“Another character in our marketing campaign is Pokey the Syringe,” said Rodriguez. “Pokey’s message is that patients can go online to view and print their immunization records. Of course, patients can also go online to communicate via e-mail with physicians, make an appointment, pay bills, and access other services.
“Anyone who goes to the Web site, www.PeteyandPokey.com, can learn about each mascot and about the online services as well,” she said. “It seems to get the message across and consumers are reacting favorably.
“As a result of this marketing campaign, we expect use of the Web site to rise among our patients and we suspect it will also generate new patients,” commented Rodriguez. “It will take another 12 months for us to evaluate the overall effectiveness of this advertising approach.
“I should add that we also see another source of savings from this emphasis on accessing lab test results via the Web. Currently we send out more than one million letters each year telling patients their lab test results,” observed Rodriquez.