Healthcare News & Insights

Keys to creating a consolidated lab facility for your hospital

As a way to make lab testing more efficient, some hospitals are centralizing their lab operations into one core facility, instead of sending samples to multiple places. And this practice is saving both time and money. 

Core labs can offer facilities a variety of options for testing, from routine hematology tests to more complex tests, including those involving toxicology, endocrinology and molecular genetics, according to an article from Hospitals & Health Networks.

The one-stop-shop approach works well for both providers and patients, as results are delivered faster – often within hours instead of days. That means required courses of treatment can start more quickly, leading to better patient outcomes overall.

Centralizing lab operations is especially helpful for large health systems with multiple hospitals. Example: Northwell Health, a New York based health system with 21 hospitals and various outpatient and skilled nursing facilities, created two core labs for its entire system after realizing how inefficient it was to continue sending thousands of tests to commercial labs as the system grew and expanded.

What executives must consider

Because of the benefits, creating a core, consolidated lab facility may be a wise move for your hospital. Before getting started with the process, hospitals need to evaluate their need for centralized lab testing. It’s important to have an idea of how many tests providers are currently ordering for patients – and whether your facility wants to maintain that amount or offer more expansive testing.

Once that’s figured out, it’s time to look at staffing and other resources. Based on current and projected volume, how many extra people will you need on staff for a lab? Which tests will your hospital focus on? What type of equipment will you need – and how much of it will you need to purchase? How will training work?

The next step is finding a physical space that meets your lab’s needs. Whether it’s extra space onsite at a large hospital, or a separate facility that’s convenient to multiple facilities and offices in your health system, the space should be open for ease of setting up equipment, as well as storing and processing test samples.

Throughout the process, healthcare executives must make sure they’re mindful of the following areas:

  • Operations. Along with appropriate staffing levels, it’s also critical to consider the lab’s hours of operation, test sample management and the lab’s maximum capacity based on available equipment and personnel.
  • Workflow. The lab must have an established workflow that considers all aspects of testing, from receiving and tracking samples to removing biological waste. Using lean manufacturing principles can help hospitals create a workflow for staff that makes the most of the lab’s space and equipment.
  • Safety. Because the lab will contain various biological and hazardous materials, it’s important to have clear protocols in place for keeping staff safe and samples uncontaminated. Proper procedures must be followed, including the use of personal protective equipment.
  • Regulations. When operating a lab, hospitals and health systems must follow additional regulatory requirements from agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute and the World Health Organization.
  • Security. Just as patients’ protected health information needs to be safeguarded, lab samples must also be handled with a similar level of care. To keep samples safe, access to the lab should be limited to authorized staff only. In addition, any electronic reporting systems that store health data must have the same data protections as your hospital’s electronic heath records (EHR) system.

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