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Choosing Lab Quality Management Software


Summary

Lakeridge Healths large multi-site lab faced challenges with manual document control processes and accreditation management challenges which were exacerbated by staff shortages and growing test volumes. The lab realized that better document control was essential for accreditation compliance and also to enable their laboratorians to more efficiently access and manage documents. They therefore assessed a variety of Quality Management software packages and evaluated each according their needs assessment. Having chosen the Lab QMS solution from software vendor SoftTech Health, they offer recommendations based on observed pre-and post-change effects, including involving the IT department in the software assessment cycle, and the importance of user-friendliness in evaluating solutions.

About the lab

Lakeridge Health is a large healthcare network made up of four facilities. This busy lab provides a full test menu with a combined test volume averaging 3,000,000 tests annually. Lab services are provided and supported by a staff that totals 104 FTEs.

The Lakeridge Health lab faces many of the pressures familiar to todays labs: staff shortages, declining operating budgets, constant technological change, and increased demand for lab services. On top of that, the lab faces the additional time pressures of managing and complying with accreditation requirements.

Assessing the labs challenges

The lab had previously undergone CAP accreditation and was well aware of the additional demands that accreditation makes on staff time and resources. Connie Thurber, who led the accreditation team, estimates that she alone spent 500 hours in preparing for accreditation. Other team members, who hailed from each section of the multi-disciplinary lab, also devoted many hours to accreditation management.

These hours included time spent on meetings and other communications within the accreditation team, find ing and organizing the supporting evidence for each checklist item, and tracking and reporting on the progress of the accreditation. As Thurber noted, these time demands arise from the need to prepare for and manage the accreditation process (not the time required to actually implement and follow quality guidelines for the labs day-to-day work).

Of particular concern was the labs need for more effective document control. This concern was founded on three points: firstly, in order to comply with accreditation, labs need to have an effective document control system in place. That is, each document must be created, updated, approved and archived in specific ways otherwise the lab will have deficiencies on their checklists. Secondly, although the Lakeridge Health lab had the required policies and procedures (P & Ps) in place, they were published in paper-based binders. Lab management knew that if they could improve access to P & Ps across all laboratory sites and enable online keyword searches, they would save time for lab staff that needed to get to that information quickly and easily. Finally, the time-consuming process of document revisions (including ensuring the documents were kept up to date, routing the document through the approval workflow, getting the revisions published, and archiving out-of-date versions) had long frustrated the labs management. Apart from being necessary for accreditation, more effective document control would help the lab save FTE time on accessing and managing the labs 2000+ documents and standardize the process across all sites.

Accreditation measures a labs quality management

Because accreditation is essentially a validation of the effectiveness of the labs quality management system, Thurber realized that efficient accreditation management correlates to efficient quality management. We had the right documents and processes in place to guide and measure our quality performance, says Thurber, but we needed to find a way to make the process more time-effective and thus more cost-effective. We also needed a way to centrally manage documents that originated from several different laboratory sites.

In the face of staff reductions, and the resulting pressure to do more with less, Thurber was able to get budget approval for the purchase of a software program which would automate the more time-consuming aspects of quality management and accreditation management. Nowadays, its not necessarily about cost savings, says Thurber, its more about time savings: because of staffing pressures, labs need to make better use of the staff they have.

From their initial assessment, the Lakeridge Health lab had an idea of the features they needed in Quality Management software. Categorizing those features in order of importance, Thurber set out to find a solution that met the labs needs.

The final choice: SoftTech Health Lab QMS

Ultimately, she chose a solution called the SoftTech Health Lab QMS (Quality Management System). A critical factor in the decision was user-friendliness. The SoftTech Health Lab QMS software has been received with enthusiasm by our staff, for two reasons: they understand immediately how to use it, and they also understand immediately how it will save them time on the job. Thurber also notes that the Lakeridge Health lab sought and found a solution that was both LIS-agnostic and instrument-agnostic: criteria which the SoftTech Health software met.

Along the way, Lakeridge Health experienced pre-and post-change effects which give rise to the following recommendations from the Lab:

  • Bring IT into the final selection process as they will need to be on-board when implementation comes and can offer their expertise in evaluating software and continuing support of the product.
  • Put user-friendliness at the top of your priority list when choosing software: when staff understands the software, they will actually use it
  • If you are choosing a solution which provides Document Control and batch importation of existing methods, policies, etc., prepare to think about what is ready to go live and schedule importation of documents accordingly.
Our recommendations have more to do with lessons learned about our own internal processes, says Thurber, because weve been very happy with the SoftTech Health product. In fact, we are so impressed with the power of this software that we are actually looking forward to showing it off during our next accreditation assessment!

As healthcare labs like Lakeridge Health struggle with staff shortages and increasingly stringent quality requirements, successful managers will continue to evaluate the potential for information technology to help them achieve their efficiency objectives.
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