Magazine Article | March 25, 2013

Wireless Tools Enhance Mobile Lab Performance

Source: Health IT Outcomes
John Oncea

By John Oncea, Digital Editorial Director

Edited by John Oncea, staff writer

Using a combination of handheld computers, barcode tracking, and route optimization tools, Diagnostic Laboratories & Radiology has improved the effectiveness of its field phlebotomists, accelerating specimen collection and lab result turnaround time.

Diagnostic Laboratories & Radiology, a TridentUSA Health Services Company, is the nation’s largest provider of combined portable x-ray, EKG, ultrasound, and clinical laboratory testing serving skilled nursing facilities, healthcare facilities, correctional institutions, and physician practices. Recently, Diagnostics Labs implemented a series of wireless solutions from Sprint to better manage its more than 350 mobile phlebotomists and couriers, as well as 13 of its Southern California drop sites. In this Q&A, Angelika Beverung, Director of Internal Operations for Diagnostic Laboratories & Radiology, and Anthony Draye, Director of Applications for TridentUSA Health Services, discuss the benefits of this implementation.

Q: What challenges drove you to implement wireless technology?

Beverung: We’re not a standard laboratory where you go into a draw center or a doctor’s office. We’re completely mobile and go to the bedside of a patient. We have more than 350 phlebotomists and couriers in the field, and historically, our process for collecting and tracking blood and other specimens was completely paper based. Requisition forms for lab work were completed by the nurses at each facility. Phlebotomists would then take these forms and fill out the portion meant for the laboratory. At the end of their shift, each phlebotomist would return their paper requisitions and specimens to the lab where the data was manually entered into our LIS (laboratory information system). We had no idea what was out in the field until those requisitions were entered and specimens were scanned in the lab. Plus, the fact that we manually entered data long after the specimens were actually collected introduced the potential for error. We wanted a solution that would provide us with real-time visibility into each phlebotomist’s daily activities, as well as the ability to track specimen collection in the field. This is what led us to investigate wireless and mobility solutions. Also, there’s always potential for error anytime you do data entry after the fact.

Q: What does your new wireless solution consist of and how does the new system work?

Beverung: Our wireless solution begins with the Motorola ES400 enterprise smartphone from Sprint. We provide each of our phlebotomists and couriers with this device. This smartphone comes equipped with an embedded bar code scanner, and we also integrate route optimization software on each device. This solution now enables us to capture specimen data in the field electronically. For example, when we need to centrifuge a specimen, field phlebotomists are able to scan a label on the container using their smartphones and wirelessly transmit this data to our LIS system. Other requisition data can also be entered on the smartphone at the point of collection and uploaded wirelessly. This eliminates the need for manual data entry after the fact and improves our data accuracy.

The route optimization technology also doubles as a time and attendance solution. Using this tool, our supervisors are now able to see exactly when a phlebotomist or courier clocks in and out, their mileage for the day, and their physical locations. Previously, we dispatched manually via radio without clear insight into each phlebotomist’s location. With the route optimization and GPS capabilities of our new solution, dispatchers can now identify each phlebotomist on a map in real time and dispatch him or her more efficiently.

Q: How did you train your end users on the new mobile solution?

Beverung: We took a two-phased approach to training. We initially rolled out the handsets with just the timekeeping component so the phlebotomists could simply get comfortable using the smartphones and logging in and out of the program. Then, in phase two, we sent four to seven key people in development and operations to a different drop site to do a complete walkthrough of the capabilities of the solution. This effort included training materials and mock environments where phlebotomists could thoroughly test the device and processes. The trainers stayed in that drop site for two more days to answer any questions about the new solution.

Q: What benefits have you realized as a result of your wireless solution?

Draye: The impact has been significant. It definitely speaks to the adage of what you can’t measure you can’t manage. Prior to implementing our new wireless solution, we had a hard time establishing data points around activities that the phlebotomists and couriers do in the field (e.g. the time they reached the long-term care facility, the time they reached the drop site, the time they centrifuged a specimen, etc.). Now we have all those data points in the data warehouse that comes directly from the solution we put together with Sprint. Those data points are collected with very little overhead because it’s a simple interaction that the phlebotomists have with their phone to capture that data. They don’t have to fill out forms, and it becomes almost immediately available to us. This data also provides us with valuable insight into the efficiency of each phlebotomist. We can see how many draws they can complete in a morning and if their route is optimized. We’re just starting to scratch the surface around the enhancements we can make as a result of the real-time data we’re collecting.

The ultimate benefit of our new wireless solution is the improved results we’re seeing as an organization. Our response times for orders are now faster. Our data entry is more accurate. Our centrifuge times have improved. Data gets to our billing department quicker. All of this allows us to deliver lab results faster and deliver a higher level of service to our customers.

From a clinical perspective, patients probably aren’t that familiar with Diagnostic Labs & Radiology. They probably view us as an extension of their healthcare provider. However, if their doctor gets their test results faster, they feel like they’re receiving a higher level of care. That’s our goal — to get results in the doctor’s hands as fast as possible with as little disruption of the patient’s life as possible. If we can reduce rates of redraw and return results quicker to the doctors, we are accomplishing this goal. Our wireless solution has been instrumental in helping us achieve this.

Q: What advice would you give other health providers looking to implement a wireless solution similar to yours?

Beverung: Allow ample time to develop a fully integrated solution, and make sure you clearly outline this timetable before you move forward with implementation. Also, place a high level of emphasis on training. This was a huge challenge for us given the number of people we needed to get up and running on the new system. Providing the right training and support to make users feel comfortable and deal with the inevitable hiccups that come with rolling out such a large system was very important.