By Lori Solomon, Editor, Diagnostic Testing & Emerging Technologies
Laboratories must engage patients as more than just the source of needed specimens. Laboratory leaders are well aware of the unprecedented number of evolutionary forces exerting pressure on the industry and are heavily focused on regulatory and reimbursement uncertainties. But, according to multiple presenters at G2’s recent Lab Institute conference (Washington, DC; Oct. 14-16) laboratories need to engage increasingly empowered patients and not just focus on servicing their provider clients.
Patients are taking a more active role in their health care. While some of this is technologically enabled, larger macro-level trends that are affecting the entire health care industry are also exerting pressure on the laboratory industry. The two most notable trends that are reshaping the patient-laboratory relationship are value-based payments and the consumerization of health care. Patients are central to the convergence of these trends.
A few years into the Affordable Care Act, definitive evidence is emerging that cost-shifting is changing the way patients utilize health care. As patients increasingly pay a larger portion of their health care bills as a result of high-deductible plans or those with higher co-pays, they are beginning to question health care costs, including the need for and price of laboratory tests. While there is some evidence that increased cost sharing diminishes the number of services patients use, there is also evidence that patients just want to make smarter health care purchases. As a result, patients are price shopping and laboratories will need to respond by increasing price transparency.
But, patients aren’t just looking for the lowest cost test, they are looking to more deeply understand the need for tests and their test results. This points to areas where laboratories can provide added value by educating and engaging patients.
This model was exemplified by a case study presented about Boston Heart Diagnostics, a laboratory recognized for its novel model for creating value through provision of individualized patient management.
Susan Hertzberg, Boston Heart’s chief executive officer, explained that 60 percent of patients will stop taking statins within the first year and 20 percent of all first statin prescriptions will not be filled. Boston Heart saw an opportunity and creates a "virtual hub" around the patient from the moment they leave the doctor’s office. The company aims to improve treatment adherence and health literacy among high-risk patients.
"Population medicine, treating every patient the same way based on a screening test doesn’t work," Hertzberg says. "We need mass individualization to drive patients to different clinical outcomes. If we increase the number of feedback loops, we have a better chance of success."
The company provides "personalized" and "contextualized" laboratory results that will provide an overall risk statement as well as simple explanations of results (biochemistry and genetics) with visual supports. In addition to informing the patient, these reports also aid the physician in discussions with patients. The company additionally employs a proprietary algorithm to inform customized lifestyle management counseling.
While this need to create enhanced business models undoubtedly puts more pressure on laboratories already trying to navigate through the myriad of unchartered changes facing the industry, forward thinking laboratory leaders view patient engagement as an opportunity for their companies to differentiate their services and drive loyalty.