By Adit Parasuram
Our country’s healthcare needs are variable, diverse and even unpredictable at times. But U.S. healthcare is still stuck in a one-solution-fits-all mentality, and the lab testing industry is no exception – which proved disastrous during peak coronavirus spread.
Patients and healthcare providers alike deserve diagnostic services that meet their specific needs without subjecting them to the inefficiencies of a broken system. That’s why the decentralized lab testing model is so revolutionary.
Decentralized lab testing is the key to transforming the laboratory sector – and healthcare as a whole – in a way that lasts. By giving healthcare providers and other organizations flexible, scalable and customizable testing services created with them (and only them) in mind, we’ve taken a major step in forming a new, more durable medical infrastructure.
At Worksite Labs, I work with our partners – medical, public and commercial organizations alike – to find solutions that utilize our decentralized lab network and help them best serve their needs. And in planning these diagnostic solutions, I answer a lot of questions about the decentralized model and what makes it such a game-changer.
Let me explain some of the basics, including what sets our approach apart, and what it can do for your organization and your patients.
What is a decentralized lab testing model? How is it different from the way lab testing is typically performed?
Decentralized labs are certified, scalable, fully staffed facilities that deliver end-to-end diagnostic testing services in closer proximity to where they are needed.
To put it bluntly, decentralized labs work a lot better than what’s currently out there. Today, U.S. lab testing operates on a centralized model, in which a couple of companies process more than half of all professional diagnostic specimens. This system – which has been in place since the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) passed – poses two major problems:
- It’s too flooded with demand to be able to prioritize any one client’s immediate, changing needs.
- It slows down significantly when demand for testing spikes, as we have seen whenever a new coronavirus variant emerges.
Decentralized labs eliminate both of these issues. By building a lab network infrastructure across the United States, our decentralized model ensures each client’s test specimens are received and processed in a super-timely manner. We’ve proven this consistently at our travel testing sites, which continue to provide gold-standard test results in 24 hours or less – and in as fast as 90 minutes.
Clients simply don’t have to worry about getting stuck at the back of the queue if testing demand increases. This is especially helpful for organizations that need specialized testing (e.g., gastrointestinal healthcare providers) that might only be available at select labs around the country.
Finally (but crucially), decentralized labs can be placed conveniently near our clients – in most cases, much closer than regional labs run by other testing companies. This eliminates the need for potentially days-long specimen transport and the risks that come with it (spillage, cross-contamination, etc.).
How does it benefit the patient?
Timely diagnostic test results lead to better patient care, plain and simple.
We cite this statistic often at Worksite Labs, but it bears repeating: 70% of medical decisions are made based on laboratory test results. The sooner patients have their health data in hand, the sooner they can follow up with their doctor and determine next steps. This, in turn, can affect patients’ trust in those responsible for their care – which tends to be alarmingly low.
Modern consumers also expect immediacy in our fast-moving world. In a lab testing landscape that has yet to catch up with the 21st century, giving consumers rapid access to their health data is the most disruptive part of a decentralized lab model. It delivers against today’s “I-want-it-now” convenience mentality.
And the right technology makes meeting those expectations even easier. (But more on that later.)
Which diagnostic tests can you run?
This is one of the most common questions I get from potential partners. My answer is always the same, and it’s simple: “If it exists, we can run it.” Part of the power of decentralized labs is they let us meet clients where they are with any test they might need.
Let’s return to the gastrointestinal testing example from earlier. G.I. testing is more esoteric and complex, which is why it isn’t necessarily available at every major regional lab. But if a client comes to us with a specific need for G.I. testing, we simply procure the necessary processing equipment and supplies, then place them in our local lab – or we can even go as far as to build that client their own lab.
Another tool in our testing arsenal is that we’re “vendor agnostic” – we don’t sign exclusive deals with any manufacturer. If a client needs to run a specific assay (testing sequence) but one manufacturer is experiencing backorders, we simply contact other manufacturers until we can procure the necessary materials. Maintaining a broad network of providers is essential to staying ahead of potential supply chain issues.
Because our model is flexible and customizable, we can run virtually any diagnostic testing assay that’s currently available. But that’s not what sets us apart. The real differentiator here is the ability to produce results for any test in record time.
What role does technology play in running a decentralized lab network?
Back to that point about having the right tech: Any one-to-one healthcare service needs software that integrates seamlessly with the client’s current systems.
Often, this kind of technology is one of the biggest barriers to forming healthcare partnerships. When a company that provides testing or some other service can’t integrate with a healthcare provider’s electronic health records (EHR) programs, scheduling platform and other software, it complicates things for everyone involved. That includes patients who are trying to set up a patient profile, schedule a testing appointment and see their results.
With our own proprietary SaaS technology, we can integrate with any client’s EHR program or scheduler. This makes it way easier than if client and clinicians must jump from platform to platform just to verify their personal data and make sure their visit was booked.
This platform’s integration has also enabled us to serve patients through telemedicine. Anyone who receives test results from us can easily schedule a follow-up with a Worksite Labs healthcare provider to discuss next steps.
Worksite Labs wants to increase healthcare access for all. How can decentralized labs help with that?
A decentralized lab model makes it easier to reach people with locational or economic disadvantages.
For example, rural residents likely live farther away from healthcare services, including diagnostic testing providers. Meanwhile, financially vulnerable people and those without insurance have fewer opportunities to access their personal health data and learn whether they require critical care.
Through the Worksite Labs Community, we’ve been privileged to place decentralized labs near communities where critical care is less accessible. Residents in vulnerable communities like South Los Angeles, Menlo Park and the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn have visited our community sites for not only diagnostic testing but general health services, including blood tests and vaccinations.
The key to widening our community footprint is finding the right partners – organizations with a similar passion for serving our neighbors. Brooklyn’s Universal Baptist Church, L.A.’s Peace Chapel Church and the Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula in Menlo Park have been invaluable in helping us increase healthcare access in their respective communities.
We still see opportunities to add community sites in other underserved areas around the country. I would especially like to see us create a footprint in the Midwest – in Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago – or other areas that need greater access to care.
Why isn’t decentralized lab testing already the norm?
Simple: because the current system is “just the way it’s always been.”
For a while, centralized testing was the only way to accommodate the entire country’s diagnostic needs within one large framework. But a lot has changed since the late 1980s, when CLIA passed and the current testing infrastructure was born. Consumer demand has become more immediate. Technology has evolved exponentially. And a global pandemic has proven just how easily the system can crack under pressure.
So why hasn’t the industry made the shift away from centralized to create a “new normal”? Because building a lab (let alone a whole network of them) is hard. It involves earning certifications, working with local governments and obtaining licensure. That’s why other testing companies have settled for mere “testing popups” – which are usually just collection sites that still need to send specimens to a faraway lab. They haven’t put in the work to build new labs in more places where they’re desperately needed.
That’s what makes Worksite Labs different. We simply will not let the old way of doing lab testing continue. Our convictions are too strong, our people are too tenacious and resilient, and our model is just too good.
U.S. healthcare is long overdue for structural reform. That’s why we’re using decentralized lab testing to break the system for good.
Adit Parasuram is chief strategy officer of Worksite Labs.