More talent and technology provide solutions to medical laboratory staffing shortages

According to healthcare experts, laboratory testing is the largest activity in the medical industry. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 70 percent of today’s medical decisions depend on laboratory test results. Almost every time a patient enters a hospital or healthcare facility, their diagnosis is in the hands of medical laboratory professionals. This makes medical laboratory professionals an essential part of the healthcare ecosystem.

Unfortunately, the industry is currently in a precarious position. The workhorse of the healthcare industry is now experiencing an unprecedented staffing shortage. It is estimated that the industry is short of about 25,000 workers. This means that the existing workforce of clinical laboratory technicians and technicians, estimated to be only 335,500 professionals as of 2020, is being stretched to its limits.

As of 2020, the United States has approximately one medical laboratory scientist for every 1,000 people, or one laboratory scientist for every 38,500 laboratory tests performed each year. A 2018 report by the American Society of Clinical Pathology found that nearly every laboratory specialty has a vacancy rate of 7-11%, with vacancy rates as high as 25% in some departments. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that laboratory technicians and technicians alone will need to increase by 13% nationwide, which is nearly double the basic increase required for all other occupations.

The talent pipeline is in a state of drought

According to Dr. James Crawford, senior vice president of laboratory services at Northwell Health, professor and chair of pathology/laboratory medicine at the Donald & Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, One reason for the shortage of staff in the laboratory industry is a lack of awareness. qualified candidates.

“Nursing, physician assistants and other health care professions have gotten more publicity coverage, especially over the past 20 years,” he said. “I think we have to look at ourselves and say, ‘Have we done what we need to do to promote our profession? To me, this is the clarion call of our time.'”

PhD. Crawford, who is also a founding member and chairman of the board of Project Santa Fe and the creator of the Clinical Laboratory 2.0 concept, further explained: “Recently, the laboratory profession has been so low profile that school counselors hardly know it, and vice versa in high school and college. Bachelor’s degree level. Generally, one needs to know someone or be influenced by someone in the field to become addicted.”

Because of this, many clinical laboratory training programs are not completed. Even with demand, the number of training programs is decreasing.There are now fewer than 240 training programs for medical laboratory technicians and scientists in the U.S.

Complicating matters further, the industry often has “mature” demographics.

According to Dr. Crawford, “Experienced lab technicians have higher exit rates than younger people entering the industry.”

high cost of education

In addition to lack of awareness and reduced availability of training programs, other factors preventing students from becoming new laboratory professionals are educational requirements and costs. To earn a laboratory science degree, students face a five-year commitment. Then, after they graduate, they need to be certified by the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP).

“Like today’s state-of-the-art educational programs, the time and cost commitment to becoming a clinical laboratory scientist can matter,” said LigoLab CEO Suren Arwenjian. “The average cost of a medical laboratory science degree is about $100,000, which is about half the cost of becoming a doctor. However, due to the vital role a medical laboratory plays in healthcare, it may be the most fulfilling in medicine one of the professions.”

Avunjian has spent nearly three years working with labs of varying abilities. His current company, LigoLab, is a provider of end-to-end software for clinical laboratories and pathology groups. The LigoLab LIS & RCM Laboratory Operations Platform is an enterprise-grade laboratory information system that includes modules to support anatomical pathology, clinical pathology, molecular diagnostics, revenue cycle management, and direct-to-consumer testing.

Lab careers are not immune to burnout or big resignations

Burnout is another problem the lab industry is grappling with. According to the ASCP’s Job Satisfaction Survey of Laboratory Professionals, 85.3% of employees are experiencing burnout. Additionally, 36.5% of respondents said dissatisfaction was the reason for understaffing, while about 35% attributed it to workload.

“Stress and burnout have taken a huge toll on the healthcare industry in the wake of the pandemic,” Avunjian said. “Unfortunately, laboratory professionals are not immune to this trend.”

Adding fuel to the fire is the Great Resignation, which affects most occupations. According to a recent report by the ADP Institute, 71 percent of the workforce between the ages of 18 and 24 said they would consider looking for a new job if their employer insisted they work full-time. This is worrying news for an industry that needs qualified people to work on and off the field.

What can a laboratory do?

According to Dr. Crawford, career development opportunities need to be more visible and salaries need to be more competitive with other health professions.

“We have to make it clear that this is an exciting job with real career development potential and can be compensated on a competitive basis,” said Dr. Crawford. “There must also be a clear path to advancement, both recruiting talented people into the laboratory industry and ensuring leadership when older people retire. We need to demonstrate what already exists: Medical laboratory scientists can grow For managers, supervisors, senior executives, assistant vice presidents, vice presidents, and more.”

Being competitive in terms of starting salaries is another big hurdle that needs to be addressed if the lab industry wants to change trends and hire the best and brightest. Medical laboratory technicians typically earn significantly less than other medically trained professionals, such as nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, and pharmacists.

“Getting to the forefront of the educational pipeline and making the necessary adjustments in awareness of laboratory specialties and their career ladders and salaries is critical,” said Dr. Crawford said.

Technology can also help lab industry future-proof

In addition to qualified and talented personnel, Dr. Process improvements and advanced technology also help reduce the staffing burden faced by medical laboratories, Crawford believes. For Crawford, process improvement boils down to what can be done to effectively deploy the workforce so that all people and departments can leverage their strengths. To achieve this, he believes in standardizing laboratory operations within the health system, from LIS to equipment to reagents and more. Once implemented, the personal hygiene system can be flexibly adjusted as needed to alleviate pressure points and cope with peak operational volumes.

Avunjian agrees with Dr. Crawford on laboratory technology and its role in addressing the current crisis.

“Implementing the right technology is the best way for a laboratory to simplify operations,” he said. “Modern laboratory information systems (LIS) can help laboratory managers fill gaps created by staffing shortages, making medical laboratories more efficient in testing workflows and reducing reliance on manual steps.”

A laboratory information system is a technology solution that helps manage all aspects of diagnostic testing in molecular, clinical and anatomical pathology laboratories. The system supports the entry, tracking, processing, reporting and storage of sample and patient data or PHI (Protected Health Information).

Photo: Andri Jumantara, Getty Images

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