As with many things in the healthcare industry, molecular labs are evolving at an incredible pace with advances in everything from instrumentation to service delivery and more. No longer the mysterious hidden function tucked away in a remote part of the hospital, molecular testing labs are becoming a much more prominent part of the overall healthcare package. One reason for their rise in prominence is an increased emphasis on evidence-based precision medicine.
“Molecular testing labs play an important role within evidence-based precision medicine,” said Northwest Pathology Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Bull, in an interview. “A big reason for why there is increased demand on molecular testing labs is that biochemical and molecular genetics are driving medical care forward. Molecular labs are quite literally responsible for providing much of evidence for evidence-based precision care.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70% of today’s medical decisions depend on laboratory test results. This further highlights the important role that clinical laboratories play in today’s healthcare environment.
The Rise of Evidence-Based Laboratory Medicine
This dynamic has even given rise to a whole new practice, one that is being called evidence-based laboratory medicine, or EBLM. This is a unique branch of evidence-based medicine that focuses on the evaluation and use of laboratory tests for the purpose of improving patient outcomes. This means molecular testing labs are becoming the key collectors and interpreters of the data provided by biological specimens, helping clinicians form a better understanding of clinical pathways and treatment options, including options for drug selection, specialized therapeutics, and other treatments.
The evolution of evidence-based laboratory medicine also means that diagnostic tests are becoming extremely complex. So complex in fact that even physicians and their staff aren’t able to easily understand them anymore. As such, molecular labs are frequently called upon to help healthcare providers understand the relevance of certain lab results.
“One of the biggest changes we have experienced recently is in the role that labs now play regarding the diagnosis and treatment of disease,” added Bull. “Traditionally labs were only tasked with processing specimens and issuing reports. But because they have become so adept at understanding the treasure trove of medical data that they collect, labs are becoming a bigger part of the treatment team.”
But not all molecular testing labs find this elevated role enticing. Some lab managers feel the added strain on current workloads is far too much. However, recognizing the value in helping to advance medicine, future-ready labs are turning to technology for support.
The Digital Transformation of Molecular Labs
According to the CDC, 14 billion laboratory tests are ordered annually, a volume that is putting a significant strain on available lab resources. As such, labs that don’t have the proper tools or operating procedures in place are not only putting safety, quality, and cost-effectiveness at risk, they are also jeopardizing the effective diagnosis and treatment of disease as well.
“Modern molecular labs require a laboratory information system that goes beyond basic order capture and result delivery,” said LigoLab CEO Suren Avunjian, according to a blogpost. “Labs need a system that ensures flexibility within and beyond the lab’s network, features specimen lifecycle tracking and support, promotes scalability and efficiency, and enhances the lab’s value as a revenue center and care partner.”
LigoLab Information System is a provider of software for pathology groups and clinical laboratories, serving over 100 facilities across the U.S. The company’s laboratory operating system includes modules specifically designed for molecular diagnostics. Other vendors in the space include Sunquest Information Systems and SCC Soft Computer.
“The traditional LIS no longer cuts it in today’s clinical testing lab environment,” added Avunjian. “Molecular labs need a system that can connect across all corners of the diagnostic landscape, including instrumentation, lab management analytics, robust decision support, effective quality controls, and third-party interoperability with EHRs, decision population health tools, and other systems.”
Northwest Laboratory, a division of Northwest Pathology, has been providing a wide range of laboratory services for northwest Washington for over 25 years. Just over six years ago, NWP began a laboratory information system (LIS) partnership with LigoLab and became fully integrated with modules for anatomic pathology, clinical laboratory, molecular diagnostics, revenue cycle management, and direct-to-consumer all united on one software infrastructure. By doing this, NWP was able to eliminate data silos and quickly add molecular testing to its growing surgical pathology business.
What the Future Holds
Despite the challenges that molecular lab managers face — such as increasing workloads, growing complexity and ever-changing lab environments — the future is bright for both patients and the healthcare industry in general as relates to evidence-based precision medicine. Patients that suffer from complex or rare illnesses face far better prospects today than in the past and molecular labs are a big reason for this. And as the future unfolds, technological developments will help these labs meet many of the challenges ahead—especially as molecular analysis tools continue to revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Consider for example what’s possible with the molecular analysis of DNA. Healthcare professionals are now able to diagnose previously undiagnosable patients, determine predisposition for certain diseases, tailor treatments, and monitor response rates to therapeutics more precisely.
Because of the important role they play in evidence-based precision medicine, molecular labs will continue to grow and evolve along with the practice itself. However, laboratories that do not invest in the technology or talent to keep up with this evolution will be left in the proverbial rear-view mirror. And this would be unfortunate because the healthcare industry needs all labs working on all cylinders. The value of this is not just in the treatment of patients, but in the cost reductions throughout the healthcare system as well.
Photo: Natali_Mis, Getty Images