A Look At An Interoperability Option For Lab Tests and Services

Posted on December 6, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Maybe I don’t go to the right parties, but I hadn’t heard that HL7 had released an implementation guide offering a standardized way for providers and other health organizations to exchange catalogs of lab tests and services. But I just learned the basics from a recent article on ONC’s HealthIT Buzz blog, and thought you might find them interesting.

The article, which was authored by execs with the American Clinical Laboratory Association, says the new guide can help labs share data electronically in a way that wasn’t possible before. Right now, the article notes, most clinical practice managers in the US must manually curate lab test catalogs. While the article doesn’t specify, it’s hard to imagine how this could fail to be a very time-consuming process.

However, under the new model, things are much different. The HL7 invitation guide describes how labs can provide electronic Directory of Services (eDOS) information to all providers ordering lab work, regardless of whether they are using EHRs, laboratory information systems or other platforms. Also, the guide explains how these labs can enable lab-to-EHR interoperability by using data formats that EHRs can incorporate into lab ordering systems.

The release of the eDOS guide follows a long-term effort by the American Clinical Laboratory Association to standardize lab catalogs for most commonly-ordered tests. The article authors, Steven Posnack and Thomas Sparkman of the ACLA, contend that by using the guide to automate eDOS, practices can reduce labor costs, improve test ordering accuracy through clinical decision support and even phase in precision medicine more rapidly as labs add new services. What’s more, using eDOS, EHRs would be able to import lab test companion information directly, in minutes, which is not possible in most current configurations.

And hear them tell it, the benefits to providers will be tangible. They note that according to ACLA estimates, a typical practice ordering an average of 1,000 frequently-ordered lab tests could potentially save $94,500 solely by using eDOS.

The article also suggests that eDOS implementations are good for labs and health IT developers. They point out that in most cases, specs for laboratory interfaces are customized one offs and nonstandard, but that under eDOS, the specs standardize laboratory data exchange from end to end.

As a non-developer, I can’t comment on how effective this framework is, though the argument made by the ACLA seems promising from a business standpoint. Still, speaking as an observer of this industry for quite some time, I still wish I was hearing about broader solutions that might actually work, rather than solving the problems within one of healthcare’s many silos.

That being said, if it’s actually possible to dramatically boost the efficiency of lab data sharing, the industry should have at it. We can’t let the ideal be the enemy of the better, I suppose.