The Biggest Problems Facing Lab Managers Today

The past two years have caused staffing issues in many areas of healthcare, but medical labs were already struggling to hire enough people before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Six leaders in the medical laboratory field spoke to Becker’s Hospital Review about staffing and other challenges they face today.

Editor’s Note: These answers have been edited slightly for clarity and brevity.

Question: What is the biggest challenge for your lab right now?

Michelle Wiginton, Head of Partnerships at S&P Consultants, on behalf of Pathology Laboratory Associates (Tulsa, Okla.): Our challenges are probably those faced by others, with the debate over vaccination status and the consequences for employees who do not wish to be vaccinated. Laboratory medicine is already in dire need of personnel. We are experiencing the retirement of seasoned employees and an inability to hire staff to meet the demands of growing order models. To add fuel to the fire, we include compulsory vaccination for healthcare workers. We risk seeing more vacancies where staff already feel overworked, overwhelmed and emotionally drained, causing burnout.

Another important factor is the conclusion of contracts with the payer and the reduction of reimbursements. As laboratories, particularly in pathology, we are an ancillary service for order providers, and the requirement to remain networked with thousands of exclusive payment plans is extremely difficult. Laboratory medicine provides assistance to the prescribing clinician on the diagnosis and management of disease, which is an essential part of the overall health of the patient, but payers view laboratory medicine as a commodity that compromises time and skill. necessary to provide the service.

Mike Blitz, Senior Sales Manager at Karius (Los Angeles): The laboratory staff are simply tired and exhausted. They had to validate and implement multiple platforms for COVID-19 testing. Normally a lab will have a platform or a test, but with supply chain issues and demand differences labs have multiple platforms.

Obtaining basic supplies for non-COVID-19 testing has been a challenge as manufacturers pass the capacity for COVID-19 testing and earn less for tests like gastrointestinal illness.

Finally, basic maintenance was delayed. It would be difficult to do basic home maintenance in the middle of a hurricane – and then, when Hurricane Ida passed, the next hurricane hit shortly after.

Noel Maring, Executive Director of Health Systems at Labcorp (Burlington, NC): These comments are not specific to my company, but apply to commercial labs and many hospital labs.

Commercial and hospital laboratories have for several years been facing shortages of qualified employees in specific areas of the laboratory (microbiology technologists, histology technicians, etc.). However, the pandemic has exacerbated these shortages and created additional shortages.

A shortage of qualified phlebotomists has made it difficult for commercial laboratories to consistently maintain regular patient service center hours. Commercial labs have the same problem, but for couriers.

Additionally, vaccine requirements further limit the pool of people available for the above two positions. Some hospitals do not allow outside contractors to enter the hospital unless they are vaccinated. For example, only vaccinated couriers can enter certain hospitals.

Jonathan Gerber, Account Manager at Diasorin (San Francisco): The most difficult thing for my laboratory director clients right now is getting test supplies. Many of the big diagnostics companies can’t keep their promises.

Thel Grayson, Director of Laboratory Services at JPS Health Network (Fort Worth, Texas): There appears to be a shortage of medical laboratory scientists and laboratory technicians available to work in a hospital setting.

In addition, there continues to be a cycle of national supply shortages for laboratory needs. We spend quite a bit of time stretching allocated supplies or finding alternative products that can be used. Some supplies own the equipment and there is no alternative but to implement a new test platform.

Brandy Gunsolus, Director of Specimen Referral at Augusta University Medical Center (Ga.): A challenge we face now that we didn’t anticipate a year ago: the ongoing problem with supply chains and the inability to get essential supplies, such as blood collection tubes, for testing. laboratory.

One challenge that was present a year ago but has now reached a critical point is the staffing of the laboratory. We have known for several years that we are retiring and losing laboratory personnel exponentially faster than we are currently training and certifying them, but we have now reached a critical point in the profession. This is due to the lack of individuals going to the field and the closure of more programs due to low enrollment and lack of funding.

About Hector Hedgepeth

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