Even before the COVID19 Pandemic, Laboratory Medicine was under intense pressure. Viewed or treated as a cost center, Laboratorians often entered each fiscal year asked to achieve the dreaded "more with less." Staple requirements include reducing the budget, controlling physician utilization, and improving turn-around time. These practices often leave the full value we create or enable on patient outcomes, clinical efficiency, and health system performance unrecognized or unappreciated. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the real value of a lab result. The impact a single result can have on patient flow, physician and patient confidence, and the healthcare system's overall efficiency and effectiveness. Laboratory Professionals deserve massive recognition for the impact they have made on their communities and the patients they serve during this pandemic. It is indeed exciting to see that recognition materialize.
Unfortunately, in the wake of the financial devastation of COVID-19, an eventual return to "cost center-like" pressure/treatment is likely, and perhaps inevitable - unless we seize this opportunity to reimagine the lab and the thinking, behaviors, and business processes we use to define Lab Medicine.
There has been much progress in re-valuing and re-shaping Lab Medicine in the past decade. This includes The Diagnostic Management Team concept of leveraging the lab's decision expertise as its value source to the Lab 2.0 Movement of taking a comprehensive down-stream look at the numerous value-creating impact points. It is clear the lab has significant and unique expertise which creates meaningful value. When leveraged and powered appropriately, the laboratory can have a sweeping impact on downstream cost, quality, and outcomes.
However, executing these novel models and getting recognition and investment for creating this "new" value is easier said than done for most of us. The day-to-day pressures, the prevailing systems, and processes that govern health system operations and strategies, and the sheer lack of time to "think" can impair our ability to make slight impactful changes, much less a cultural transformation inside and outside the lab.