In photo above, the Northwell Health Labs app team, including Ross Schneidman, Joanne LoPinto, Christopher Zavala, Bryan Hemmings, and Michael Eller. Photo courtesy Northwell Labs
The mobile phone app was built last fall to enable customers to order and pay for home draws, but now may be a valuable tool for visiting patients’ homes to collect specimens for COVID-19 testing
For clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused two major service and business problems: a significant decrease in testing volumes and a resulting decrease in revenue. The sudden drop nationwide in routine lab test specimens is attributed to declines in Emergency Room visits, surgeries, elective services, and outpatient doctor visits. (See Dark Daily, “COVID-19 Triggers a Cash Flow Crash at Clinical Labs Totaling US $5.2 Billion in Past Seven Weeks; Many Labs Are at Brink of Financial Collapse,” April 4, 2020.)
However, the clinical laboratory at the full-service integrated health system-based Northwell Health Labs in Lake Success, New York, has partially offset the dramatic reduction in testing volume through a new mobile application that it developed last fall.
Christopher Zavala (Left) Director of Business Development and Marketing at Northwell Health Labs, spoke with the COVID-19 STAT Intelligence Briefing Service about the mobile collection services app known as LabFly. Zavala explained how the app works and how the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an increase in patient participation.
“This is an app where you can request your phlebotomist. It’s similar to Lyft or Uber, except that it’s for home phlebotomy,” Zavala said. “Patients can create their profile on the app, take a picture of the prescription, and we will dispatch a phlebotomist to their home. They can watch the phlebotomist in route to their home, like Uber, and they can rate the phlebotomist afterwards.”
The LabFly app is operational across Long Island, throughout Westchester County, and all five boroughs of New York City. Northwell Health Laboratories maintains a staff of mobile phlebotomists and has an infrastructure in place to cover the service area.
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly increased patients’ use of the LabFly app as a convenient way to request Northwell Health’s at-home phlebotomy services. “Back in January, we did between 10 and 20 appointments a week,” Zavala explained. “Last week we did 175 appointments. That doesn’t include home appointments where there were multiple patients, such as a family with multiple children that need testing.”
According to Zavala, most testing done through their home-draw collection service has not included COVID-19 testing. “Telemedicine has been our biggest driver,” he said. “People are using telemedicine to get care for their chronic health conditions while everything is shut down. To do lab work for telemedicine, you must visit patients at home to collect the specimens needed for clinical laboratory testing. It is that use of the mobile app that has ramped up significantly.”
Mobile Clinical Lab Specimen Collection Services Offer Unique Benefits
For many areas of medicine, the clinical value of mHealth apps is still being evaluated, even as both patients and healthcare providers show increased interest in using these tools. Mobile collection services, such as Northwell’s mobile phlebotomy service, offer several distinct advantages for clinical laboratories with the capabilities to launch and support a similar service.
The most immediate benefit of this type of mobile app is that it allows medical laboratories to capture part of the testing market that is not available to most labs during the pandemic. “This is definitely—in no way, shape, or form—replacing 100% of our normal routine test volumes,” Zavala said, “but it’s definitely helping.”
A mobile specimen collection service also allows clinical laboratories and pathology groups to capitalize on the increased use of telemedicine services. Most of the increase in mobile specimen collections that Northwell has seen are due to telemedicine orders. Mobile collection services are a natural extension of telemedicine and offer medical labs an opportunity to access an emerging market and keep up with innovations in healthcare.
The Northwell Health Labs mobile collection service also fosters patient compliance with doctor-prescribed lab tests. “20% of patients that get blood work prescribed never get it filled,” Zavala said. Mobile collection services are more convenient for patients who may otherwise be less likely to comply with ordered testing. This creates a long-term opportunity to increase volumes that labs may continue to see even once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
The increase in requests for phlebotomy services through Northwell Health’s mobile app demonstrates to pathologists and clinical laboratory managers how quickly patients and providers can adapt to new technology that makes critical laboratory services more convenient. With the use of telemedicine likely to continue and increase beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, this may be an ideal time for medical laboratories to implement such a mobile collections service.
While Northwell Health LabsLabs has primarily focused on developing LabFly as an internal tool, labs can purchase and white label the technology, according Zavala. Clinical laboratories and pathology groups may be interested in learning more about white labeling this platform and implementing a mobile collections program using the app. Labs will also find that there are many smart phone applications that can be quickly customized to allow consumers and patients to request a home draw, pay a fee for that service, then track the progress of the phlebotomist to their home or location.
—By Caleb Williams, Editor, COVID-19 STAT