The hidden link between laboratory medicine and historic motorcycle racing


by Laura Comilla

"I am not a motorcycle rider, just a supporter of those who love two wheels and laboratory medicine which runs on minimal fuel to be successful."

About a month ago I had the opportunity to attend the Executive War College conference in New Orleans. The conference focused on how laboratories can survive and thrive.

Following that conference, the other weekend I attended the Vintage MotoFest at Road America in beautiful Elkhart Lake, WI. The Fest brought together a fun cast of characters who have a love for riding fast on vintage motorcycles. The similarities between the two events were striking. Now, many people may not see the linkage between Laboratory Medicine and Racing Historic Motorcycles, but I found more than one connection that gave me a reason to reflect.

Let me share...

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"While health systems are in competition, laboratory leaders help their peers."

- Laura Comilla on the similarities between lab medicine and vintage motor racing

1. Leadership

Insight: A motorcycle rider always has spare parts for his fellow club member.

At the Fest my husband Lee, who rides a Suzuki 650, met “Josh” when he set up his pit tent next to Lee’s on the paddock. Josh’s brake guard was damaged and needed repair. Lee happened to have an extra one and not only provided it for Josh but helped him install it. The two men spent the next 20 minutes replacing and adjusting the brake handle and guard. These two riders then raced together on the circuit.

Link with laboratory medicine:

While health systems are in competition, laboratory leaders help their peers. Laboratory managers are genuine and recognize that by helping a fellow colleague, the quality of care across both health systems improve.

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"Without the means to invest in data management, lab directors continue to operate solo."

- Laura Comilla on the similarities between lab medicine and vintage motor racing

2. Data Management

Insight: A motorcycle rider always assesses their speed and performance to get better.

Most of the MotoFest entrants are not and have never been professional riders, yet every rider assessed the speed of each lap from their tachometers, timers, gas volume, and more to ensure greater success. These riders needed to review their own data because they didn’t have a pit crew to review and evaluate strategies for improvements. I wonder how much greater each rider would be if they did have a data scientist reviewing their data and advising on strategies.

Link with laboratory medicine:

Mara Aspinall, Chief Financial Officer of Health Catalysts said it best: “Data is the new black”. Dr. James Crawford, Senior Vice President and Executive Director Lab Services at Northwell Health articulated how laboratories cannot stay in a 1.0 mentality of only having data but need to move into a 2.0 execution where data scientists use lab medicine information to gain insights that generate positive health outcomes. Also, Dr. Michael Astion, Division Chief of Lab Medicine at Seattle’s Children Hospital, emphasized the critical importance of genetic testing done under Lab Stewardship to ensure the right test is done at the right time. The laboratory leaders sitting in the audience were asking the same question…where do I begin? How do I start the process of shifting from simply collecting data to gaining clinical stewardship or insights? The audience is genuine in wanting to move into the same direction, especially after reviewing the astounding results from Astion and Crawford. Yet, without the means to invest in data management, laboratory directors continue to operate solo.

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"Who knew Vintage MotoFest riders were not far off from lab management?"

- Laura Comilla on the similarities between lab medicine and vintage motor racing

3. Risk Stratification

Insight: A motorcycle rider consistently practices risk assessment.

When care is needed for a motorcycle capable of high speeds, risks are reviewed and assessed to determine the best course of action. During the Fest, Lee’s bike needed attention; he noticed oil dripping from one of the catch bottles which shouldn’t have been. After making many adjustments, he realized that his bike needed a total top end engine overhaul. His categorization of the issue and potential risks of a total engine failure led him to pull out of the last day of racing.

Link with laboratory medicine:

Tricore’s Rick VanNess, Product Manager and Kathy Swanson Director of Enterprise Clinical Solutions both from TriCore Reference Lab demonstrated how they used risk stratification based on patient information, metadata, and medical results. From the stratification, they created targeted intervention models to know how to handle each “risk quadrant” and better treat patients. While Lee didn’t have his bike information into quadrants of risk, he knew for each level of risk what the targeted intervention should be. 

Ultimately, when laboratory executives develop their strategic initiatives to address moving to value-based healthcare, it must be done with leadership and community, data management, and stratifying outcomes to make the best decisions. Who knew Vintage MotoFest riders were not far off from lab management?

Laura Comilla is Commercial Director Americas at LTS Health.