Do you know if your lab leads with a common language?

Clinicians consider TAT from the time the test is ordered to results reporting, whereas laboratory professionals usually use specimen receipt to reporting of results as the TAT. 
— Turn Around Time (TAT) as a Benchmark of Laboratory Performance
With healthcare becoming more digital and databases considered a norm for quality improvement initiatives, the need to identify and standardize common medical definitions needs to be a priority. A medical professional can utilize different definitions for common phrases such as TAT (turnaround time) within different institutions or even within the same institution.

I have seen TAT defined as; 1) Time from when the order was placed to results reported; 2) Time from when the specimen was collected to results reported; or 3) Time from when the specimen is received into the laboratory to results reported. This is not only confusing but misleading and creates unusable data for utilization management and performance management. Differing measurements of TAT also creates setbacks when implementing change or achieving your laboratory health IT goals. When comparing metrics to industry standards, or to internal values, precise data points must be analyzed for accurate assessments. Databases are designed to contain specific columns for specific datum. Populating such columns with data from disparate sources, because of confusion in terminology, results in ‘bad data’. Without accurate, sanitized data, valuable business intelligence (BI) analysis is impossible.

With all the excitement and buzz surrounding the future of healthcare in artificial intelligence and machine learning to assist medical professionals in patient care, we frequently forget the single most important facet – lead with a common language. Yes, building complex algorithms with the ability to map pathways and predict unknowns is vital; however, this will never be accomplished if your institution does not "speak the same language." Far too often, institutions begin IT projects without changing the culture and language leading to delays that are timely and costly (in terms of staff morale and finances).

This leads me to the question: do you know if your lab speaks the same language?

Common terminology with multiple definitions is not a new issue or challenge, especially within healthcare. The push to create a universal language, a lingua franca of sorts, is seen in the health level 7 (HL-7), Classification of Diseases (ICD), LOINC, etc.  However, these organizations and programs are not addressing some of the root issues that are stemming from your lab and throughout your institution. Waiting for these organizations to mandate common terminology will cause further postponements and result in your institution lagging in our data-driven world.

Standardization of data is critical when used to monitor metrics and report quality indicators. Having different nomenclature makes it difficult to compare metrics between organizations and determine institutions success in achieving goals based on their metrics. Lack of standardization may also have a financial impact when used for indicators that determine reimbursements when pay-for-performance is instituted. If an organization uses only its own data definitions, it will be very difficult to benchmark between institutions and achieve greater healthcare goals.

Does achieving standardization of data within your organization seem daunting? LTS can help you standardize language, workflows, and culture to drive your next IT project in utilization management and/or performance improvement. Our experience in laboratory consulting and applying The 8 Principles of Laboratory Performance will minimize risk and empower your organization to succeed starting with building a strong business case resulting in expedited decision making with meaningful impact.

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