If you’ve ever stepped into the testing laboratory of a large hospital, you would know that managing the lab’s operations alone is no small feat. The bigger a hospital gets, the greater the volume of patients it would have to handle. These patients would be prescribed a wide array of tests to detect various diseases. It could be blood glucose testing for diabetics, liver panel or lipid panel tests for assessing liver functions and cardiac risk, tests for thyroid functions, cultures for diagnosing infections, etc.
Needless to point out, ensuring that these tests are completed on time and the reports are delivered to the right patient is paramount. Collecting the samples, allocating resources, running the tests, generating reports, managing patient data, and handling the financial side require competent operational management and seamless workflows. That is where medical lab management software comes into the picture.
A medical lab management system or laboratory information management system (LIMS) is a kind of software used to manage operations at medical testing laboratories. It is one of the many types of software developed to optimize health care management activities. Pathologists at laboratories can use it to record, store, and manage all the data relevant to inventory, samples, and testing. It is an excellent platform for doctors to coordinate a wide array of medical testing for patients. The tests could be for blood chemistry, immunology, hematology, toxicology, etc.
2. What Are the Problems Associated With a Pen & Paper-Based System?
A medical testing laboratory at a hospital is bound to deal with several dozen patients each day. Needless to point out, not all of the patients would have similar problems. A pen and paper-based system of all the testing workflows is slow, manual, and prone to errors. Moreover, it also poses hurdles in accountability and compliance. Let’s explore some of the drawbacks of using pen and paper in labs in detail –
As the medical industry continues to ride the wave of digitization and technology, custom healthcare software solutions have improved. Digital platforms for healthcare workflows have proven their worth many times over when it comes to optimizing clinical activities and accelerating the speed of operations. But using a physical pen and paper system instead of medical laboratory management solutions slows down the entire process and increases errors. It also brings up many additional problems like –
A. Patient Data Privacy
Medical reports in physical documents and paperwork can be lost, misplaced, stolen, or accidentally handed to the wrong patient due to clerical errors. But a LIMS system stores all reports digitally, which can be retrieved with a few clicks securely.
B. Greater overhead
is perhaps the most pervasive problem of using pen and paper-based systems. Printing and managing physical reports and documentation is bound to incur costs for printing paper, printer ink cartridges, and other office supplies.
C. Physical Storage
This is one of the more tangible problems associated with not using medical lab software. A laboratory at a large hospital would no doubt handle the tests of hundreds of patients every week. So, storing all the reports becomes a major hassle that the staff would have to put up with. The hospital would have to spend money safely storing the physical documents without compromising patient data privacy.
D. Document Sharing
Filing physical medical reports of numerous patients and sending them across different hospital departments becomes difficult and cumbersome. Moreover, if doctors from different departments or hospitals need to collaborate on a particular case, getting printed reports to each of them is an added problem. It is a problem that medical laboratory software can overcome with a few clicks.
E. Correcting Errors
If hundreds of medical reports are manually typed and filed, there will be a few mistakes. But if the mistakes are discovered after the reports are printed, it will lead to rework, re-printing, and re-filing.
F. Environmental Concerns
The planet is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe. Subject matter experts around the globe concur that we are living through another mass extinction event. All of us need to do our bit to save trees, plant more of them, and limit our carbon footprint. The use of paper results in deforestation, which reduces carbon absorption from the environment. On the other hand, laboratory management software almost entirely removes the need for paper.
Another major disadvantage of using a pen and paper-based system for running medical labs is integration. Integrated healthcare solutions enable various medical solutions to work together seamlessly at a hospital and optimize operations significantly. This, in turn, reduces overhead, improves clinical outcomes, and enhances the entire patient experience. Using a LIMS platform benefits the laboratory, doctors, and patients.
To sum it up, a pen and paper-based system slows down things and opens the possibility of errors, increases operational costs, requires a bigger staff, and is ultimately bad for the environment. It is prudent to invest in robust clinical laboratory management solutions.
3. How Does a Medical Lab Management Software Automate Laboratory Workflows?
Just as software has helped optimize operations in pretty much every industry, it has done the same for healthcare. Healthcare software product development has unveiled a range of solutions to streamline medical operations. This optimization is often the result of automation. As the name suggests, automated healthcare solutions remove repetitive manual activities from workflows and enable the software to operate with little to no human intervention. Let’s see how they automate processes.
A laboratory inventory management solution acts as one comprehensive platform to carry out all the laboratory processes. Operations at medical labs are all about samples taken from patients. The samples are obtained from patients based on the doctors’ prescription, labeled according to the tests to be performed, prepared the reports, and helped the staff deliver them to the right patient or doctor.
The series of processes mentioned above have to be done the right way. For a hospital that sees several dozen patients each day, automation can go a long way in helping the staff ensure the smooth running of day-to-day activities. It removes the need for manual, repetitive tasks and frees up time and resources for the staff to focus on other matters. Here’s how a lab management software brings in automation in healthcare –
1. Cataloging of Samples
When a blood sample arrives at a lab, a pathologist or a relevant professional registers it along with the patient’s data in the system. This process includes placing each sample with a unique identifier like a barcode that facilitates tracking throughout its lifecycle. The medical lab management software automatically generates the identifier, and the rest of the testing process begins after a proper process structure has been finalized. The LIMS system initiates a process similar to an assembly line, in which each pathologist has designated a role in the testing lifecycle of the sample.
Testing a sample for diseases, enzymes, or other markers is an elaborate procedure, and the process structure is in place to track each step and every entity involved in the steps. These steps consist of securing relevant resources for the test, verifying the patient’s identity, filling up the relevant documentation, and linking the sample to the corresponding documentation through the identifier -as mentioned before – placed on the sample and the documentation.
The data and metadata of all the steps mentioned above are stored securely on the laboratory application software. Access to the testing data is restricted to ensure the seamless but compartmentalized working of all the stages in testing. The laboratory information management solution has all the tools to ensure productive workflows, coupled with tracking and patient monitoring every step.
2. Sample Tracking
It is no secret that a lab would have to regularly deal with several dozen samples. So, it becomes extremely important to track each sample across all stages of its lifecycle. Doing so with pen and paper is burdensome and highly prone to mistakes and process delays. But pathology lab management software allows lab technicians to schedule sample collection and sends notifications for preparing appropriately labeled test kits. After every sample is collected, the identifier is used to monitor its progression through various stages of its lifecycle. This would also include what test is being conducted, which station it is at, what freezer it is stored in, the time of storage, time of actual test, and so forth.
3. Sample Testing
Since medical laboratory software systems will be integrated with other devices, it will enable pathologists to direct the operation of the devices as per the requirements of the test. Moreover, the medical lab management software will also keep track of the status of the devices and notify the technicians and pathologists about the maintenance, calibration, and other necessities. A major advantage of a LIMS is that it ensures that no samples are tested in devices that are not adequately serviced.
4. Testing Results Compilation
Any medical lab management software has reporting functionalities built-in. These must also accompany tools for auditing the tests to have quality assurance of each test. It is an elaborate procedure to ensure that the test was carried out properly and required by government regulation.
The results of the tests are compiled according to established industry standards and prevailing regulations. The lab technicians and pathologists finalize them to be distributed to the patients or prescribing doctors.
5. Data Storage
The results of the tests need to be stored for a certain period and on the patients’ electronic health records, which ensures that doctors can access the result of this test whenever necessary. With innovations in healthcare cloud computing, storage might also be on a secure cloud instead of on-premises. This eliminates the overhead necessary to maintain a storage server since a cloud offers the benefit of expansion whenever necessary, coupled with handling data security.
The stages that a sample undergoes throughout its existence at a medical laboratory are streamlined using laboratory information management software. It boosts the efficiency and productivity of the operations and goes a long way in reducing overhead. By minimizing the need for human intervention, lab inventory systems also minimize the chances of errors, misreporting, sample misplacement, delays, and other problems. Implementing a software platform to run a pathology lab is not an expense but a prudent investment.
4. What Are the Components of a Medical Laboratory Management System?
We have seen the benefits of using a software solution to run a medical testing lab. The old way of using pen and paper is not only obsolete but also wasteful and inefficient. This section will explore the components of a good medical lab management solution in detail. It will elaborate on why a digital solution to manage a lab is a must-have.
Medical testing labs have to deal with a wide array of tests on an equally large number of blood samples. The samples are bound to be handled by multiple pathologists and technicians throughout their lifecycle, and keeping track of each stage is paramount. This is where a good lab-inventory management solution helps administrators streamline management activities. Every such software has three main types of components – Sample tracking, process implementation, and storage management.
Each of these components works in tandem to ensure a seamless process flow of the entire testing lifecycle. Let’s explore those components in detail –
i. Sample Tracking
As the name indicates, this module of lab inventory management software enables administrators to track a sample throughout its entire lifecycle of existence at the lab. From the moment the sample is collected from a patient to the time its results are generated, the sample tracking functionality offers a bird’s eye view of the sample’s progression.
The tracking includes storing all the data relevant to the sample, such as its identifier, patient’s name, date, and other biochemical information. As it moves forward along the stages of testing, additional data is generated. This module also records that. This includes the resources used for testing, the results, and other relevant metrics. Additionally, lab management software also helps keep track of other data, such as the pathologists or technicians who handled each sample, which testing station it was placed at, what stage of the test, etc.
ii. Process Implementation
This is a major component of any medical lab management software. This ensures that every person handling samples follows all the operating procedures, protocols, and rules. This is extremely important since the results of every test have to be foolproof, as an error might end up in a doctor prescribing the wrong treatment to a patient. All the processes at a lab are established industry standards that a lab management software needs to be able to implement.
In addition to ensuring all protocols are followed, a module to implement processes, by definition, also needs to be able to assess a sample and designate it to a procedure. Each sample arrives for one specific test or a whole range of tests. Based on what test needs to be performed on which sample, the software solution will assign it to the appropriate series of steps for the required test.
This module is extremely helpful for clinical research and helps the researchers streamline the processes. Research needs to follow strict guidelines and protocols to obtain definitive results, and deviation from established norms could throw the readings off and affect everything that comes next.
iii. Storage Management
This is also one of the most important aspects of a medical laboratory management solution. As the name suggests, it designates places to store each sample throughout its testing lifecycle. Additionally, it also keeps track of where every sample is stored, in other words – which freezer or cold storage, what shelf or slot, and so on. Needless to elaborate, this enables smooth operations at laboratories, better management of samples, and faster storage and retrieval of every sample.
5. Features of a Diagnostics Lab Management System
Laboratory information management systems help accelerate the operations at laboratories and create enormous value for all stakeholders involved. After sweeping digitization hit the healthcare industry over a decade ago, doctors and pathologists have quickly vouched for digital solutions to run labs. Even though multiple companies offer such solutions, good laboratory software has a few common features.
Any competent laboratory solution has a broad array of features that enable the team of pathologists to run day-to-day operations smoothly. So, if you’re a lab technician or an administrator looking to invest in a relent software, there are a few functionalities that you must look out for. Let’s discuss some of them in detail –
1. Inventory Management
A medical diagnostics laboratory needs certain supplies and raw materials to run tests on samples. Laboratories at large, urban hospitals often need to deal with hundreds of samples every week. So, it stands to reason that it would need an effective means of managing its inventory of the required raw materials. In addition to that, it would also include hardware equipment for the lab and also things like test tubes. The best part about the laboratory inventory function is that it alerts pathologists if certain raw materials are approaching expiration.
2. Patient Portal
This is a highly useful, built-in patient engagement system within laboratory software. It enables the patients who’ve given their samples for testing to look up their results online. They can log in from any location, check the results, and even get a printed copy.
Data analytics has helped every industry grow to newer heights and boost productivity. Similarly, medical informatics has also empowered the healthcare industry to assess historical and current information to understand its operations better. This is extremely helpful in laboratory operations, as it highlights the performances of each activity, reveals turnaround times, and harnesses useful insights. These can then be used to make informed decisions regarding management and everyday operations and improve overall productivity.
4. Staff Management
Just as any organization needs an efficient means of managing its human resources, medical labs also require a digital platform to manage their staff. An online lab management system offers a comprehensive platform to handle the staff, from establishing work schedules to assigning tasks and tracking the same. Moreover, administrators can use such a solution to track the progress of all the tasks assigned to every pathologist or technician.
5. Test Management
The entire process of testing that begins with collecting a sample and ends with the results can be elaborate. It will involve multiple activities that need to be carried out properly. A digital solution for managing a laboratory can help pathologists streamline the process of testing and monitor every stage. A lab software with a test management feature helps administrators determine the progress of any stage of every test with a few clicks.
This is rapidly becoming a must-have for more or less every type of healthcare technology. Whether it is a large hospital, a small clinic, an ambulatory care center, a medical testing lab, or even a veterinary clinic, it’s got to use digital solutions to run day-to-day operations. These could range from appointment scheduling to medical billing, EHR, medical documentation and medical coding, etc. So, a laboratory software platform needs to integrate with all the other medical software and work seamlessly together. Furthermore, lab management software would go a long way in enabling telehealth services if integrated with practice management solutions and advanced telehealth solutions. Electronic data interchange between various medical solutions provides a comprehensive system to manage multiple workflows and boost productivity.
7. Digital Security
Any organization handling patient data needs to have a certain degree of digital security measures in its software. Regulations like HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) stipulate a minimum level of cybersecurity, which is bound to incur steep penalties and even jail time. So, a medical lab solution must feature adequate security measures to ensure the safety and privacy of patient data.
8. Document Management
As the name indicates, this feature acts as a consolidated repository for all the documentation related to laboratory operations. These can include all the necessary files to run and monitor testing processes, inventory, reports, test results, etc. Moreover, this feature is also highly useful for carrying out clinical research based on historical and current information and newer ones focusing on diseases and cures. The ability to store, retrieve and manage documents from a single interface streamlines many processes and improves overall administration.
6. What Are the Advantages of Medical Lab Management Software?
We have seen the working of laboratory solutions and the constituent modules that make them up. Also, we have talked about the drawbacks of using the old pen and paper method. This section will talk about all the advantages that using such software brings to everyday operations.
I. Regulatory Compliance
Laboratory activities have to be carried out in strict accordance with regulations. This should come as no surprise since it is a matter of people’s health, and mistakes could have serious implications. Multiple regulations stipulate several practices at laboratories. Complying with laws is one of the biggest advantages of using a laboratory software system. Guidelines like HIPAA, GLP, and CLIA can be easily followed, and the activities are recorded using a reputed laboratory application.
Activities like tracking samples, managing patient data, tests, and corresponding reports are required by various regulations, depending on the state. A solution for lab management has features built-in to accommodate any compliance requirements.
II. Reduces Overhead
This is perhaps the most common advantage of using a digital solution to manage operations in every industry. This holds for every kind of healthcare organization. Whether it is a dentist’s office, a veterinary clinic, a hospital, an ambulatory care center, or a medical testing laboratory, a digital solution reduces operational overhead.
Using pen and paper would need more staff, not to mention office stationery and physical infrastructure to store all the documentation and reports. In addition to that, managing all the documentation about inventory, samples, patient information, and finances would require a team dedicated just to this job. Moreover, auditing the workflows, assessing efficiency, and making changes to tasks would need elaborate planning, team management, and decision flows.
But a laboratory software platform eliminates the need for extra staff to handle documentation flows, task assignments, and finances. It offers a digital interface where managers can carry out workflows with a few clicks. In other words, it enables a laboratory to do more with fewer resources.
III. Customizable Functionality
The very laboratory would have varying activity and process flows. Despite the chemical and biological processes of testing being the same, the day-to-day administration of labs is bound to be different. In light of this, a digital solution to manage a laboratory adaptable to existing workflows helps the staff acclimatize faster. But it depends on the specific solution developed by certain companies. Not every such solution is customizable. Pre-built ones can’t usually be tailored to meet the requirements of specific labs, but they are relatively cheaper.
Conversely, a custom-made solution for a specific lab can meet all the unique requirements. But it is bound to be more expensive, and the lab would need to spend a little more on implementation and staff training.
This is another advantage of using a software platform to manage laboratory operations. As the name indicates, software needs to be able to scale to adapt to evolving requirements. A lab might begin by offering a few services initially but later grow to add more tests to its portfolio of services. This growth is accompanied by additional workflows, staff, documentation, and overall functionality. A laboratory solution needs to be able to keep up with the changing demands. If this condition is not met, the lab administrators would be forced to invest in newer software each time they scale. This will cost more in terms of money and time, as the staff would need a few days to get used to it. But a scalable solution allows for more functions to be added without too much additional investment and wouldn’t demand any staff re-training.
V. Fewer Errors
A digital solution takes out the manual pen and paper from the usual activities at any organization. This has the immediate effect of reducing the human element from those activities, and the result is a significantly lowered chance of human error. The same applies to operations at medical laboratories. As labs at large hospitals tend to work with several dozen samples each week, carrying out the relevant documentation, resource allocation, accounting, audits, etc., by pen and paper is bound to result in mistakes.
But a laboratory software platform takes away much of the manual, repetitive human intervention and replaces them with digitized workflows. So this minimizes the chances of errors in any of the activities, leading to smooth, seamless operations.
VI. Streamlined Operations
Using a pen and paper manually to carry out operations is inherently inefficient as it involves managing the physical paperwork. Moreover, activities like auditing, task assignment, resource allocation, and staff management would all be time-consuming and prone to errors if done manually. Additionally, keeping stock of all the chemicals, reagents, and raw materials for testing and ordering new ones after the old ones have reached expiration can be easily done using a digital laboratory platform. So, a software solution goes a long way in optimizing operations, increasing work speed, and boosting overall productivity. Things that needed handling physical documentation can now be done through a digital interface in a few clicks.
7. How to select the Right Laboratory System Software for Your Organization?
The healthcare software industry has grown enormously in the last decade. Numerous companies offer a wide range of software solutions for several healthcare operations. There are multiple software development companies that offer laboratory solutions with varying features. So, if you run a medical testing lab and are looking for relevant software, there are a few features that you need to watch out for.
a. Customized Vs. Pre-Built
This is a major factor in deciding the software you might select. A pre-built laboratory software would most likely have many of the standard features required but not all needed for your particular lab. Also, a pre-built solution is suited for laboratory operations in general and cannot be altered to fit differing workflows. Additionally, implementing this type of software would result in some changes to the working styles and time for the staff to get acquainted with it. But it is relatively cheaper compared to custom-built software.
As the name indicates, custom healthcare software will be made specifically for a laboratory to match its operational flows. It is bound to be more expensive since it was designed and developed for one specific organization. But on the upside, it would match the existing workflows and not need the staff to spend time and resources to get used to it. So, it all depends on the requirements of your laboratory. If a pre-built software is in sync with your organization’s workflows, you can go ahead with it. If it diverges too much, you are better off going for a custom-built solution.
b. Vendor Support
This is one of the most important factors to be considered while looking for laboratory software. There are bound to be glitches or problems throughout the software’s lifespan. It is up to the company selling the software to provide timely support and updates to ensure smooth operations.
c. Time to Implement
A new software system will need time to be implemented and deployed in an organization, and this will cost money and employee working hours, which could’ve been spent working. So, it is necessary to know how much time it would take for laboratory software to get set up and running, as too much time would affect operations.
d. User-Friendly Interface
This holds for all kinds of software. A laboratory inventory management software must be easy to use and not require the staff to spend too much time getting used to its interface. Lab work is delicate, and the results have serious health implications for the patients. So, the staff does not feel that the solution is too troublesome for use. Software with a difficult user interface affects workflows and staff productivity. So make sure to research the laboratory solution before you decide to buy one. Look up the reviews of other customers and try to visit a lab where it is in use. This should give you a fair idea about the solution.
e. Cloud-based Vs. On-Premises
A cloud-based solution would not need to be installed on the computers in the lab. Moreover, all the software storage and processing parts would be handled off-site in a data center. So you won’t have to invest in expensive hardware, physical infrastructure to manage the storage, or even a dedicated IT support staff. But an on-premises software would need relevant hardware, which might require additional investment. So it all depends on how much you’re willing to spend. Take some time to figure out the cost factor before making a decision.
Investing in a new laboratory software might seem daunting at first, and it is highly advised to take some time to assess your requirements before spending on a solution. If you face difficulty, do not hesitate to hire an IT consultant or even request the company to send over an expert to see if their software can match your requirements.
8. Cost Considerations for Developing Clinical Laboratory Software Systems
A laboratory software platform is comprehensive, and it connects clinicians, patients, and pathologists. So, some factors need to be considered for developing a lab solution –
The number of features you include directly determines the cost of development. The more features, the greater the time it would take and the bigger the team you would need to build it.
ii. Third-Party Integrations
This is one of the most important aspects of developing health tech. Ensuring that software can integrate with other clinical software will impact the development costs.
Medical technology needs to comply with certain regulations. Depending on the features and services, your software will have to comply with existing regulations, which will add to the development cost.
iv. Location of Development Teams
Teams located in North America or Europe will cost you more than teams in Asia. But depending upon the skill and experience of each member, you might have to hire a team composed of developers from multiple locations.
Digital Lab Management Software Systems are integral to smooth operations at medical testing labs. As the healthcare industry continues to digitize and newer technologies emerge, laboratories need to keep up with the changes. With innovations in remote patient monitoring systems and telehealth emerging fast, digitizing your laboratory has become necessary.
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Written by Riken Shah linkedin
Riken's work motto is to help healthcare providers use technological advancements to make healthcare easily accessible to all stakeholders, from providers to patients. Under his leadership and guidance, OSP Labs has successfully developed over 600 customized software solutions for 200+ healthcare clients across continents.