Lab Tech Standards, With Benefits

Scott Mace, April 16, 2013

Is your laboratory thinking about Meaningful Use yet? In all the hubbub over ONC's mammoth incentive program (and the penalties that follow in a few short years if you don't get on board), technology changes affecting every medical lab will provide their own benefits to healthcare's bottom line.

It's been a long time coming.

As far back as the 1960s, it was already understood that a standardized vocabulary for the multitude of lab tests performed in this country was lacking. Those lab tests now amount to about 30-billion-per-year.

While the industry argues about which version of ICD to agree upon in the diagnostic code area, and just how we would get physicians to agree upon these diagnosis codes, information about lab tests were always more amenable to being digitized. A serum sodium test is a serum sodium test, and once a lab test standard exists, there's no reason not to bake it right into the diagnostic equipment itself.

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And yet, as of today, there is no government requirement for labs or healthcare providers to present each other with lab tests coded in a standard way. Regrettably, labs have built their own mini Tower of Babel using proprietary or home-grown codes.

This means that sending results from one system to another, part of that continuity of care we're always talking about, can involve lots of expensive, time-consuming recoding of lab test codes from one system to another.

Scott Mace

Scott Mace is the senior technology editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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