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7 Tips to Improving Critical Lab Turnaround Times

  • 22 January 2022
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7 Tips to Improving Critical Lab Turnaround Times
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7 Tips to Improving Critical Lab Turnaround Times


By Will O'Connor M.D., CMIO at TigerConnect on January 21, 2022

 

Critical lab work always seems so easy on TV. A doctor yells out, “Get me a full workup, stat!” and the next thing you know, the patient is getting exactly the treatment they need. Cut to commercial. In real life, however, things are a little different. The lab does its best to deliver results to the care team quickly. The doctor who ordered the labs might have gone off shift before the results were ready. The lab pages someone else on the care team, but the recipient doesn’t reply because he or she is busy, or isn’t aware that critical lab results are expected. Time slips by, and patient care can suffer.


With modern clinical collaboration and communication (CC&C) solutions, the time between critical lab work being ready and the care team taking meaningful action based on the lab results can shrink dramatically—improving patient care in the process.

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Connecting critical lab turnaround time, quality of care, and communication

Timely communication of critical results to the correct provider is essential in providing optimal clinical care.¹ For example, if a patient presents with chest pain, the doctor will likely order a test to determine if the cardiac enzyme troponin is in his blood. If troponin is present, that suggests a high probability of heart attack. The sooner the doctor can begin treatment, the less heart muscle the patient will lose—an issue that can affect the patient’s long-term health outlook.


Or, a patient who is pale and fatigued might have any number of medical issues. A hemoglobin test will reveal if he or she is anemic. A glucose test will indicate if a patient is diabetic, which can have significant repercussions on how the patient is treated. A pregnancy might similarly dictate a care protocol, or avoid undue risks such as x-rays. In all of these cases, rapid test results help ensure that the patient is getting the right treatment on a timely basis. Delays can negatively affect health outcomes.


Ideally, the physician who ordered the labs will be notified as soon as the results are available. However, communication breakdowns can delay lab results. Notifications might involve phone calls, paging, and voicemail message between the lab, the unit secretary, and nurses on duty. The nurse is often expected to relay the lab results to the doctor, but this process can take hours. Clinicians may be off shift or get overwhelmed with other tasks. There may be no reliable way for the sender of the message containing the lab results to know if it was received. Delay ensues, with potentially negative effects on the patient’s health.


How CC&C solutions speed up critical lab times communication

Clinical communication and collaboration solutions help speed up critical lab turnaround times, driving better patient outcomes in the process. CC&C enables the care team to respond more quickly to the lab results because communication is being received in real-time. Robust CC&C platforms enable clinicians to prioritize and route critical lab results from the EHR or connected lab information system (LIS) to caregivers in real-time.


TigerConnect Clinical Collaboration intelligently routes critical lab results from EHRs and Lab Information Systems (LIS’s), enabling care teams to collaborate all in one place. It is then able to prioritize the notification event based on configurable parameters—routing the notification to the appropriate care team members based on roles and assignments. With TigerConnect, the notification features a user acceptance workflow that provides acknowledgment by an assigned caregiver. The notification remains in assigned care team members’ inboxes until it has been accepted.


Tips for improving critical lab turnaround times with Clinical Collaboration

Here are seven tips for putting CC&C solutions to work improving critical lab turnaround times:

1.   Know your processes and policies

It’s essential to have a firm grip on your existing notification processes. That way, you’ll understand your pain points and areas that present opportunities for positive change. Plus, existing processes and policies will inform how you configure lab result alerts.

2.   Identify current systems used

Knowing which clinical systems are in use helps you determine where the lab results information flow most often breaks down.

3.   Get your people in on the plan

Making lab turnaround times faster will depend on care team communication, not just software. It’s best to define expectations for staff and providers and engage with people who will be most affected by a change in notification and acknowledgment procedures.

4.   Create Roles to expedite communication

The TigerConnect roles feature enables lab results notifications to be sent to a role, versus an individual person. The lab can send results to “Cardiologist on call,” for example, which will route the results to the right person, no matter who is on duty at a given time.

5.   Build in escalations

TigerConnect allows you to set up notification escalations, so the system will continue to send alerts until someone acknowledges receipt. This helps ensure that critical notifications are received at the right time and leads to better patient outcomes.

6.   Set up Priority Messaging to convey urgency

Some lab results need to be received right away, as in the cardiac enzyme example. TigerConnect lets users use priority messaging to inform message recipients when lab results are needed to make care decisions for a crucial health situation.

7.   Use Quick Reply templates to easily format and send the necessary information

Quick Replies in TigerConnect are pre-written messages that enable users to quickly communicate. For example, a Quick Reply like “Got it. Will inform duty nurse.” saves a message recipient the time of having to type the reply by hand.


Implementing a clinical communication and collaboration platform can help healthcare organizations significantly improve critical lab response times, leading to increased user adoption by care teams. Learn more about how TigerConnect helps improve critical lab result times, or request a demo to get started.


Sources

1.       Lippi, G. & Mattiuzzi, C. (2016) Critical laboratory values communication: summary recommendations from available guidelines. Annals of Translational Medicine; 4(20):400. accessed 9.1.21


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