The critical importance of lab outreach
Imagine you’re on a beach. Reach down and scoop up a warm handful of sand. Cup it in your palm for a moment. Then open your hand.
Feel the fine grains falling through your fingers?
That’s what could be happening with your patient data. The data that determine whether your lab gets paid or penalized under population health. Once patients leave the hospital, their data may be slipping away.
Now try it again. Reach out. Scoop up some sand. Hold it a moment. Then pour it gently into your beach bucket. Repeat, until your bucket is full.
That’s the product of lab outreach. The outreach you need to keep data firmly under your control, while gathering even more.
We’ll show you how to do it—and why it’s so vital.
Contributing Lab Leaders
- Effective outreach helps secure data quality and consistency, and is essential to population health management
- Successful outreach can help ensure control of post-discharge care, for which hospitals are held accountable under new reimbursement models
- Understanding the strategic purpose of outreach is vital to gaining the support of C-suite members and initiating a winning formula
Charles Buck, Esq
Healthcare Compliance Attorney
McDermott, Will & Emery
Director, Laboratory Services
Senior Vice President
The Medical Foundation
Leo Serrano, FACHE, DLM (ASCP)
Clinical and Operational Consultant
John David Nolen, M.D., Ph.D.
Senior Director and G.M. for Laboratory Medicine
President and CEO
Frisbie Memorial Hospital
What does lab outreach mean?
Ask 50 different laboratorians and you’ll get 50 different answers. That’s because outreach means different things, depending on the needs of a particular institution and the healthcare ecosystem it’s a part of.
For some, outreach may be a lifeline
“We must secure new business and new patients to keep our lab operational.”
Or it may be an institutional strategy
“We need to acquire new patients for the larger healthcare institution standing behind our lab.”
Or a core business objective
“We’ve always done outreach, and it’s helped us grow our patient base.”
However it’s defined, outreach basically means that a lab is actively pursuing new business relationships with community physicians. Successful outreach results in the lab providing high-quality testing and stellar customer service to those physician practices.
Wherever your lab is in terms of outreach, know that it has become an imperative no one can afford to ignore. Our very futures as laboratorians may depend on it.
On the critical importance of outreach
Why labs must engage in outreach
Tidal market forces are pushing and pulling us inexorably toward outreach. Every day, these forces rob population health data essential to labs. Outreach provides a way to win that data back—and gain more of it.
Let’s look at 4 key forces. Flip each flashcard to see how to turn data challenges into outreach opportunities.
Outreach = Greater Data Control
You control follow-up testing during the 30-day post-discharge period that your hospital is accountable for under population health
Reach up before you reach out
Launching or growing a successful outreach program requires strong C-suite support. Gaining that support can be challenging, especially since margins may be razor-thin for outpatient services. But outreach is about far more than financial ROI.
On outreach challenges
“… The hardest thing to get started in my experience has been finding an organization that has a strategic vision, and understands not only the financial reasons for it but the strategic reasons. Really the laboratory is an enormously powerful strategic weapon that is largely ignored by the C-suite.”
—Leo Serrano, FACHE, DLM (ASCP), Clinical and Operational Consultant, Firstpath, LLC
To remain competitive in the population health arena, be sure to demonstrate to your C-suite how absolutely essential outreach is.
On gaining C-suite support
Where Do you begin?
There’s a lot to do to get an outreach program off the ground. Once you’ve gained the support of your C-suite, a good place to start is with a comprehensive audit of your lab’s capabilities.
A lab audit can help you answer questions such as:
Do we have the capacity for outreach?
How strong are our reporting systems?
Is our test menu adequate?
Do we have the right IT system in place?
Are we going to advertise and promote our services?
What geographic area will we target?
How big will our courier network be?
What’s our pricing?
What process improvements can we make to smooth the way?
Conducting a lab audit can give you a strong sense of your strengths and weaknesses, your overall capabilities, and where you have capacity.
Your second shift may be ready to serve
Vicky McClain, Director of Laboratory Services at Huntsville Hospital, emphasizes that many labs already have available capacity in their second shift that they can allocate to outreach.
On outreach capacity
You’ll have plenty more to think about as you embark on an outreach program. Take a look at some of the most critical considerations:
Information Technology (IT)
Your IT must be capable of interfacing with physician offices that use different EMRs, seamlessly integrating their data into your system
Ensure you have a dedicated client-service infrastructure that covers everything from inbound phone calls to courier services
New roles and responsibilities
Create a new lab outreach manager position, and fill it with someone capable of running outreach and understanding its many intricacies
You may need to hire a marketing manager to promote your lab and sales representatives to call on physician practices
Consider creating other new positions such as quality manager, who would be responsible for monitoring population health metrics
Your couriers are your most important marketers—they interact most often with physician practices and must be personable and marketing savvy
You’ll likely want to place phlebotomists in physician offices, and you’ll need to understand the legal and contractual ramifications of doing so
An efficient system is mandatory—you can’t have bills going to the wrong place or fail to check insurance coverage—or you won’t get paid!
This list is by no means all-inclusive—there are many more details to discuss. Which is why we’ll be devoting a lot of our time on LabLeaders to bringing you more informative content on outreach in the coming months.
Outreach isn't easy- but it's essential
Make no mistake: Initiating an outreach program requires a cultural change at most labs. But, as we said at the outset, effective outreach is essential to the future of labs. We must have control of the data that are so critical to our management of population health.
On outreach and cultural change
This article provides an overview of essential steps to a lab audit and discusses the benefits of conducting periodic audits to ensure data quality.
This downloadable PDF takes a detailed look at 10 missteps frequently made by lab sales representatives and provides actionable steps for correcting them.
This article presents a 4-stage approach to establishing and maintaining effective LIS-EMR connections to support lab outreach data exchange.