Now more than ever, hospitals and health systems laboratories are faced with the task of reducing costs and increasing efficiencies while delivering better patient care. Have you considered who will drive your laboratory improvement initiatives? Will it be internal staff, performance improvement staff, or consultants? As I speak to laboratory leaders everyday, it is apparent there is a lack of general consensus and understanding of who will deliver the best outcomes.
Are you considering using internal laboratory staff? Laboratory staff members are excellent technical resources but often lack project management skills and experience. Also, including project management responsibilities will add even more strain to an already noticeable laboratory workforce shortage. Published statistics illustrate the significance of the shortage:
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a need for 14,000 new laboratory professionals annually with educational programs producing less than 5,000 new lab professionals each year.1
- For every seven lab professionals exiting the profession due to retirement, only two are being replaced.2
- With unemployment rates near double-digit levels across most of the nation, one would think that such a critical role in the healthcare profession would be in high demand. Unlike any other profession, demand actually exceeds supply with over 40,000 lab vacancies currently in the U.S.3
What about hospital Lean Six Sigma departments? Over the past ten years, hospitals and health systems have developed Lean Six Sigma programs (performance improvement departments) that address process flow and waste issues. There is no denying that they provide significant cost benefits for healthcare. On the other hand, laboratories can be a taxing environment in which to implement Lean Six Sigma. Labs are not the same as manufacturing—where Lean and Six Sigma got started—because they typically have a variable workload; less process reliability; and longer, more-complex task cycle times. To accurately define, measure, analyze, improve, and control laboratory initiatives to their utmost realization, Lean Six Sigma practitioners must have advanced laboratory knowledge and experience.
We already have a general healthcare consultant. Can’t they just look at the lab too? Another method hospitals and health systems are choosing to perform laboratory initiatives is utilization of general healthcare consultants. In general, healthcare consultants are focused on identifying financial and operational improvement across the entire hospital or health system. Since laboratory expenditures make up on average only five percent of overall hospital spend, the lab is often not a significant area of focus for general healthcare consultants and provided a superficial assessment.
Our new capital lab equipment comes with a free assessment! Vendors are now providing holistic approaches to laboratory equipment needs, offering consulting services to review workflow as it relates to their equipment. Beware, vendor consulting services are very narrowly focused and are limited to their own knowledge of the equipment being purchased.
Are laboratory-specific consultancies really worth it? Yes, they are! And let me tell you why! Clinical laboratory-specific consultants have the time-tested processes ready to focus on laboratory improvement initiatives and improve speed to outcomes. They have extensive knowledge and experience of the lab industry to reduce the risk. Their focus is on laboratory only, allowing them to achieve the best outcomes.
But not all laboratory-specific consultants are the same as Dr. Kathy Murphy describes in a Chi video, “Beware of the Chi Clones,” which gives additional perspective.
When considering who will implement your laboratory improvement initiatives, remember it is important to consider your options.
None of Us is as Smart as ALL of Us.
Carmen M. Leschuk
Director, Business Development
Chi Solutions, Inc.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition.
2Art Sponseller, president/CEO of the Hospital Council quoted on Abbott Laboratories Press Release: New Training Programs Help Ease Lab Staff Shortages.
3Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition.