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Clinical laboratories are one of the most dynamic environments in health care today

The medical community is exerting pressure on laboratories to expand their scope of service and improve quality at a time when changes in reimbursement regulations, the advent of organized delivery systems, and competition are forcing laboratories to become even more efficient and operate under increasing fiscal constraints.

Those responsible for laboratories need to look beyond traditional management styles and marketing strategies to keep their laboratories viable, while at the same time remaining technologically up-to-date. Patient testing has expanded well beyond the traditional acute care and reference testing settings. Today’s laboratory environment ranges from reference laboratories where low-volume esoteric testing takes place to physician offices where phlebotomy and basic laboratory analyses are routine.

Quality and cost-effective laboratory services have become a major requirement of integrated networks that cover the continuum of care and whose sites include wellness centers, home care, physician’s offices, acute care settings, and long-term care operations. The testing requirements at each of these sites vary significantly. No single laboratory can provide all the testing services required in today’s healthcare delivery system.

Therefore, efforts to integrate testing from all provider sites in a well-designed, organized system are important. Because the laboratory’s product is information, much of the change in technology is related to the information systems needed to register patients, track specimens, and report patient results for testing performed in a variety of settings across the continuum of care. This includes more timely management of clinical data.

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Integration of laboratory results from various locations (testing sites) is only one part of this clinical data management. Combining clinical information from other disciplines and sources, such as diagnostic imaging and medication profiles, with laboratory findings is also part of the laboratory’s challenge. This is changing both how the information system is used and the role of laboratory professionals.

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