Mike Heydlauf, Sr. Director of Software Engineering, Siemens Healthineers
A Growing Problem
The healthcare industry is increasingly pressed for resources: Lowered reimbursements and a lack of qualified staff leads to a significant shortage in the workforce. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently cut reimbursements by 8 percent overall, and nearly 30 percent for specific tests. Furthermore, the staff shortage is not expected to change anytime soon: Only 5000 students graduate yearly from accredited clinical laboratory-science programs,yet there are 18,000 annual vacancies. With less than a third of the required trained professionals in the company and shrinking reimbursements, how can organizations address a higher patient load? The key is to improving workforce productivity.
Raising Workforce Productivity
A study of nearly 75,000 healthcare employees found that 35 percent of their time was wasted on work that added no value to patients or other customers. Reducing that lost time is a critical first step in addressing the staff shortage, as eliminating that waste can boost operating margin by approximately 9 percent. “During my career at Siemens Healthineers, I’ve found that there are three areas of focus for eliminating waste: people and processes, automation, and digitalization.”
People and Processes
Lean is the primary “people and processes” approach that should be implemented in the lab. Lean is a process of continuous improvement, incrementally optimizing repeated workflows and identifying areas to remove or revamp. Through careful observation and analysis, a Lean transformation plan improves efficiency and reduces wasteful duplicate work.
A well-designed and -implemented training program will not only improve effectiveness but also increase employee happiness, thereby boosting productivity
Further, organizations should invest in staff training and cross-training. Through Lean, the team will have a well-documented set of requirements for each role and can train employees for their specific functions. A well-designed and -implemented training program will not only improve effectiveness but also increase employee happiness, thereby boosting productivity. By then training employees in other areas beyond their core responsibilities, organizations can build in flexibility and agility to respond to situations in which a primary role is understaffed or unavailable.
With the rise of online e-learning, employees can train on their own time, without the disruption of being removed from their jobsite. E-learning also allows for flexibility depending on the needs of the job—some days will allow more time for training than others— and reduces total training time by up to 60 percent.
Manual laboratory testing is arduous, error-prone, and repetitive. Worse, testing methodology is often inconsistent from lab-to- lab or even person-to-person, degrading the test results. Investing in automation reduces these errors and inconsistencies while improving key performance indicators (KPIs).
Many laboratories have already invested in automated testing, but waste is typically most prevalent in the pre- and post-analytical processes. By automating the end-to-end process, from drawing blood to reporting verified results, organizations can garner significant benefits: decreased turnaround time, reduced risk to patient and operator safety, and increased productivity.
Finally, organizations should ensure that they have invested in digitalization efforts. Digitalization leads to increased laboratory efficiency and lower costs. Inventory management helps track consumption, checkout, and ordering of laboratory consumables. Centralized data management standardizes protocols, workflow, and reporting system wide, removing duplicate and inconsistent processes. Automated quality control and calibration save operator time and deliver results faster than their manual counterparts. The upfront cost and investment in digitalization are quickly reimbursed, allowing staff to perform higher value work and avoid monotonous tasks.
To address the growing crisis of underfunded, understaffed laboratories, organizations should focus on improving workforce productivity. By developing Lean practices, investing in automation, and adopting digitalization, diagnostic laboratories will increase efficiency, reduce waste, and ensure they are prepared for the future.