This is a companion article to the feature, “Lab Informatics.“
By Curt Johnson and Matt Modleski
“Informatics” refers to the collection, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of data, and, historically speaking, this is what laboratory information systems (LISs) have mastered for the laboratory market. The LIS helps to manage process workflow—collecting patient information and then distributing lab results as reports.
Internally, using data available in the LIS, laboratory staff typically focus on what they can glean from the data they control. Lab informatics are essential for enabling labs to determine whether they are running in a cost-effective, optimized way, from a resource standpoint, and from a reagent and contracting standpoint.
Laboratory informatics can provide management data that can boost lab productivity, and the LIS can provide detailed laboratory reports to improve laboratory efficiency. Such reports may include records or queries for turnaround time; physician utilization; staffing workload; autovalidation percentages; and quality measures, such as tracking rates of blood culture contamination, hemolysis, quantity-not-sufficient records, and cancellations.
In addition to informational reports, the LIS may offer decision-based rule capabilities that internally support lab functions, such as the ability to flag duplicate testing or automate testing cascades to assist the lab’s test utilization monitoring efforts.
In the current healthcare environment, labs are being asked to maximize efficiency and minimize waste. With the goal of greater productivity and efficiency, laboratories must use data-driven insights to guide future business decisions. The shift to value-based healthcare will shine a light on the need to enhance execution in this area and encourage laboratorians to utilize their software tools and data to their full advantage.
Informatics versus Analytics
In the broader picture, health informatics focuses on using healthcare information to improve the quality and safety of patient care, and to promote better collaboration among healthcare providers. In other words, the goal of health informatics is to use health information technology to improve healthcare outcomes, reduce costs, and eliminate waste.
The next logical step in laboratory use of informatics is “analytics,” which takes informatics a step further, using logic to discern the interrelationships of groups of data in order to gain a better understanding of how to use that data. In order to successfully analyze healthcare data, researchers must determine which questions they need answered, gain access to the sets of data that potentially contain answers to those questions, and have knowledge of both medicine and analytic science to perform effective data queries. In the future of value-based medicine, analytics will be essential for reducing costs while improving patient outcomes.
More Than the Sum of Its Parts
Clinical laboratories contribute essential components to the involvement of lab informatics in the bigger picture of health informatics in a value-based healthcare environment. Eventually, pulling data out of external systems—hospital information systems, pharmacy information systems, radiology information systems, and so on—will be essential for collectively assessing the data and finding ways to further improve health outcomes and reduce costs.
This is great news for laboratories, because they gather 70% to 80% of the clinical data that providers use to treat patients, making the lab of tremendous value. Labs will be instrumental in contributing to analytics that can improve the value of patient care, resulting in more effective treatment protocols and reduced downstream costs.
Curt Johnson is chief operating officer and Matt Modleski is vice president of business development at Orchard Software, Carmel, Ind. For further information, contact CLP chief editor Steve Halasey via [email protected].