Medical Laboratory Professionals Week is April 23-29. In celebration, we highlight the critical role that lab professionals play in healthcare, and share how we support their work every day.
“Medical lab professionals play an incredibly critical role within the healthcare ecosystem,” said Melissa Laber, SVP, Lab and Non-Acute Sales at Cardinal Health. “Their work is foundational to care providers’ decisions, and our Lab business exists to serve them and their testing, clinical and operational needs.”
Though many patients are only peripherally aware of the work medical lab professionals do, more than 14 billion clinical lab tests are ordered every year in the U.S., and 70% of medical decisions depend on their results, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Division of Laboratory Systems.
Emily Berlin, Cardinal Health’s VP of Lab Marketing and Aero-Med Commercial Sales and Operations, said, “Diagnostic testing provides patients, their families, and their providers and care team with information that helps build a roadmap for tailored treatment and recovery plans.” Berlin, who leads a large team of lab professionals, started her career as a lab scientist. “I’ve always wanted to know the underlying cause of disease and why someone gets sick,” she said. “That ‘why’ is the question that lab professionals answer.”
Through its diagnostic specialists, experienced sales team and nationwide distribution network, the Lab business distributes to more than 6,300 hospital labs, hospital-owned clinics and reference labs, and services testing across multiple lab disciplines. The Lab portfolio includes thousands of products, including Cardinal Health™ Brand product options designed for clinical efficacy and affordability.
“We must have a very robust portfolio of products, market knowledge and subject matter expertise to fully support our customers,” Berlin said. “Customers rely on us to meet their clinical needs, help make their financials work, and enable them to drive operational benefits through supply chain and logistics expertise.”
Cardinal Health has an experienced team who serve as trusted advisors within the lab industry. “Customers look to us to help solve problems,” Berlin said. One way they offer additional value is through Lab Briefings, a monthly educational webinar series that features key opinion leaders sharing trends and best practices. Topics vary from lab quality and data and analytics to lab management and reimbursement. All Briefings are available in an on-demand library and are accredited for continuing education credits by the American Society of Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) Professional Acknowledgment for Continuing Education® (P.A.C.E.®).
“The lab business is incredibly complex,” Laber said. “Fortunately, our Lab team’s industry-leading expertise enables them to stay ahead of emerging trends and changing regulations in this space – and to pass along their expertise to our customers. Through continuous innovations and key supplier relationships, they support our customers’ mission to help ensure specimen integrity, maximize operational efficiency and improve patient satisfaction.”
Aero-Med: Meeting a growing demand for convenient access to lab testing
Until recently, lab services were delivered primarily in hospital labs, clinics or physician’s offices. But two trends are driving the initiation of more lab testing into the home: The acceleration of decentralized care and the growth in consumerism in healthcare.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated acceptance of point-of-care and at-home testing, Laber said. “Prior to the pandemic, it was not as common for people to get a diagnostic test outside of a hospital or physician’s office. But the pandemic forced the issue, and proved how convenient drive-through clinics and home testing can be.”
That convenience is revolutionizing the diagnostic testing market. Because over the counter point-of-care and at-home tests can be easily initiated by an individual, they are quick and confidential, and allow patients to check for possible diseases or health conditions. Common at-home tests include pregnancy tests, glucose or blood sugar tests, wellness panels, screenings for colon cancer and genetic tests, all available online or at local pharmacies.
The Aero-Med division of the Lab business supports the demand for such testing through the lab kitting business which develops, manufactures, and provides logistics services for specimen collection kits. Depending on the requirements, the kits can be shipped to patients’ homes on behalf of health systems, payors and direct-to-consumer testing organizations, as well as to hospitals, reference labs and testing organizations.
A team of Lab Kitting Specialists work closely with customers to understand their collection protocols, testing workflows, and technology requirements. In addition, packaging, labeling, and shipping options can all be optimized to best fit a customer’s needs. The end result is a customized specimen collection kit that meets both the clinical, operational, and commercial needs of our customers.
Last year, Cardinal Health opened a new Aero-Med facility in East Hartford, Connecticut, to strengthen our already broad capabilities in manufacturing and distributing more than 50 million customized and standardized custom kits each year. The new 110,000-square-foot facility replaced a previous 55,000-square-foot lab kitting space spread across several buildings, and enables efficiencies and better workflows that improve performance, customer experience and employee engagement.
“Lab kitting is certainly not a one-size-fits-all proposition,” Berlin said. “Through Aero-Med, we can develop customized specimen collection kits to meet the specific needs of our customers.”
Ensuring a reliable supply chain
Customers count on Cardinal Health’s Lab business for strategic collaborations when it comes to the reliability of laboratory supplies, she said. “Our commitment to the healthcare ecosystem is something that we take very seriously.”
During pandemic-related supply chain disruptions in 2020 and 2021, customers asked for more communications and visibility on product availability. “They wanted us to provide more advance warning if we were facing a potential product shortage,” Berlin added. “We responded by building new tools for supply availability that gave us a product health report card by category. This was particularly effective for some of our more volatile products, like respiratory tests, specimen collection products, and lab consumables. It was one way that we worked to alleviate pain points associated with supply disruptions so we could work with our customers to find alternative products, if necessary.”
The team also built a reserved inventory program, so that customers can reserve a specific quantity of respiratory tests based on historical use, to ensure they’ll have products accessible when they need it. “During an often-unpredictable respiratory season, for example, customers who use our reserved inventory program know they’ll have defined quantities of tests, and don’t have to scramble if the season starts early, or increases in intensity quickly,” Berlin said. “Customers tell us that this provides peace of mind and helps minimize interruptions to patient care.”
Using automation to mitigate workforce challenges and meet performance goals
Increasingly, automation is key to efficiencies in the lab, Berlin said. “There’s a long-standing challenge of labor shortage in the lab industry, thanks to high retirement rates and decreasing numbers of graduates from accredited programs. Across the country, labs find it harder to meet labor demand.”
Automated solutions can mean less hands-on time for routine tasks, so that lab scientists can focus on the more analytical aspects of their job. Automation also enables labs to maximize results’ accuracy and minimize human error. In fact, lab automation has been shown to reduce human errors by 50% while increasing productivity by as much as 75%, according to Elite Learning, a provider of accredited professional development courses.
The Lab business offers solutions that enable customers to automate different workflows in the chemistry, microbiology or histology labs. “We're investing in technologies that support product tracking and supply chain visibility to create a better consumer experience,” Berlin said. “We're also helping our customers drive standardization within their facilities so they can gain efficiencies. Simple-sounding solutions – like ensuring that all the products used for patient testing are standardized – can have a big impact.”
The future of lab testing
The Lab team’s expertise, its large lab distribution network, and the strengths of its data-driven solutions hold the promise of a strong future, Berlin said. “Lab testing will become increasingly integral to patient care – with growing awareness about why and how testing can drive healthcare decision-making and care pathways. And we have a tremendous opportunity to drive value for our customers across all labs – in traditional lab markets, the acute space and reference lab markets, as well as point-of-care and at-home testing. As testing evolves, we have the knowledge, capabilities and infrastructure to help our lab customers evolve, as well.”