Minimizing the Impact of Laboratory Staff Shortages in 2023 and Beyond

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Clinical staff shortage is impacting the entire healthcare industry. How does the laboratory industry survive and thrive?

The future that laboratory professionals are facing today is grim. There’s no sugar-coating it. The same labor burn-out that impacted the healthcare industry for the last decade, that’s been exacerbated by the recent world-wide pandemic, is having the same devastating impact within the clinical testing laboratory industry. 

It’s the perfect storm scenario for the outlook of the labor force in clinical staffing. Years of declining academic participation, high turn-over from retirement of a large portion of the labor force, higher burden placed by government regulations, stagnant wage growth with higher demand for knowledge, skills, and level of education has put an incredible strain on the availability of the clinical testing staff. With the recent industry-wide and nationwide workforce trend spurred on by the pandemic, the “Great Resignation” and mass migration of available human resources has really put most successful independent laboratories in a bind.

So while the American Society for Clinical laboratory Sciences considers the solution to this labor shortage requires “a coordinated commitment from all stakeholders to include laboratory and medical professional organizations, clinical laboratory and hospital administrations, educational institutions, the laboratory industry, and federal and state government agencies,” what can each and every lab do to weather the current storm of labor shortage, seeing how there may not be an immediate end in the near future?

Labor shortage is here to stay. For now

One of the key causes of the current staff challenges, the lack of a steady pipeline of students in quality programs to feed potential pool of applicants for every open position, is a multi-year process where schools need help from the industry to provide educators and programs at the local level to help staff the clinicians of the future. However, any effort today to bolster the declining clinical programs means the solution is at least 2-4 years away, and that the current staffing problems can potentially get worse before it gets better. 

According to Forbes magazine, “the accuracy and timeliness of lab tests are critically important, as they shape approximately two-thirds of all medical decisions made by physicians.” Yet, despite the importance of laboratory testing to clinical diagnosis, in the United States and Canada, there are only 337,800 practicing laboratory professionals. Basically 1 medical laboratory technician per 1,000 people in the population. 

And this is a difficult cycle to break, because as more and more laboratory professionals leave the industry citing burn-out (85.3%) and inadequate staffing leading to too much workload (36.5%), it leads to a 7-11% vacancy exacerbating the burn-out and exit rate due to each and every technician needing to take on up to 10% more work than their capable of or trained to do.

How can independent laboratories thrive with a labor shortage?

There are no simple answers, of course. If there is, the industry would have surely implemented it already. The feedback loop of employees leaving because they feel burnt-out, causing more burn-out thus increasing turn-over must be broken to stem the flow of exit. If an independent laboratory cannot hire more staff to alleviate workload, what can one do to maintain cash-flow and improve margin?

There are three areas that independent laboratories must address to survive and thrive in this challenging market.

·      Automate ordering

·      Shift the burden of collection

·      Collaborate and network with other independent laboratories

Automating the order entry process and eliminate human error 

Every minute spent by a laboratory personnel entering a paper test order, is a minute wasted by staff and a minute that contributes to more stress and increases workload. A Computerized Provider Order Entry is only the beginning. A secure, HIPAA compliant automated portal system that a provider can access on the cloud, that provides test results to the consumers, and works with most LIMS will save technicians valuable time answering inquiries from doctors regarding the status of a test, or explaining to a patient about their lab results.

A day in the life of a laboratory technician, according to Cambridge College of Healthcare & Technology, should be: 

  • Collecting blood and tissue samples from patients
  • Preparing the necessary solutions to add to the samples for testing
  • Analyzing patient samples in search of abnormalities
  • Testing both blood and urine for the presence of drugs
  • Analyzing a patient’s blood to ensure another blood is a match for a successful transfusion
  • Prepping, sterilizing and maintaining high-tech equipment such as microscopes, gamma counters, densitometer, spectrophotometers and more

Ensuring the lab order entries are correct on paper, arranging reports for physicians, and dealing with patients outside of the testing lab should not make up the bulk of their work. By reducing these functions using an automated, cloud-based portal can significantly reduce their workload, improve morale, and allow them to practice at the top of their certification.

Direct to consumer laboratory testing can shift the burden of collection

What the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, is that mass quarantine and living without in-person contact can be possible for a short period of time. It has also dramatically shifted consumer sentiment towards a wide variety of industries. Now more and more consumers order household items, groceries, meals, and a variety of services remotely.

And it’s also accelerated direct to consumer (DTC) lab testing solutions. Tests requiring saliva or nasal swabs, collection for testing for colon cancer, and genetic testing sample collection all have moved to a DTC model. While blood test still requires in-person technician, a lot of other ancillary tests and the collection process can be shifted to the consumer, thus requiring less time involving a technician. 

As modern medicine moves toward a “precision medicine” model, placing higher and higher burden towards clinical laboratory test results as a means to diagnosis, more and more of the burden of collection needs to be shifted towards the patient and consumer.

Join network of laboratories and share resources

While a small to medium sized independent laboratory may be constrained by time and resources to implement an online portal, or create a DTC testing kit to collect samples directly from the consumer, the cost related to getting these programs started may be reduced or mostly eliminated by partnering and joining a wider network of similar clinical testing laboratories.

Expand each laboratory’s geographical reach, increase reimbursement, accelerate revenue cycle all with the help of a partner like 1health, and join a network of thousands of other independent laboratories to access products like Ordering Cloud, an online portal that makes status tracking, order entry, insurance validation and onboard new clients and customers faster. Or use 1health’s expertise in creating direct-to-consumer kits to help kick-start a DTC program.

1health is your partner to help you increase revenue, decrease operating cost, and expand marketing reach in today’s challenging staff shortage 

This staff shortage is going to impact the clinical laboratory industry for the foreseeable future. Every independent clinical laboratory is going to need a partner that helps driving healthcare innovation forward, and the experience to help them automate ordering and the associated tasks, shift the burden to the consumer for sample collecting, and thus alleviating the workload on current staffing levels. 1health’s powerful platform delivers end-to-end solutions to help labs streamline their processes, gain efficiencies, and enhance their accessibility while the flexible APIs enable lab customers to drive better patient engagement and compliance through uniquely accessible and impactful solutions.

In addition, the 1health production systems and data are hosted on a platform that is certified compliant with the SOC 2 Type 2, HITRUST, HIPAA and ISO 27001 standards. In turn, the solutions offered are designed to help them maintain this data integrity and stay compliant with HIPAA, GDPR and all related health information regulations.

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