COVID-19 Business Intelligence and Analysis for Clinical Laboratories, Pathology Groups and Hospital Administration

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Reliable COVID-19 Business Intelligence and analysis for clinical laboratories, pathology groups and Laboratory Diagnostics.

Lessons One Clinical Laboratory Has Learned as It Passes Its One Millionth COVID-19 Test

August 2020 interview with Bert Lopansri, MD, on scaling up the lab

Intermountain Healthcare Laboratories credit “adaptiveness” to achieving COVID-19 test milestone

Intermountain Healthcare Laboratories recently announced passing a major milestone that few clinical laboratories in the country have achieved—processing one million COVID-19 tests. While large clinical laboratories such as Quest and LabCorp have certainly already achieved this milestone, Intermountain Healthcare Laboratories is one of the first clinical laboratories to do so while operating within a larger healthcare network.

Based in Utah, Intermountain Healthcare is a healthcare system that includes 24 hospitals, a medical group with more than 2,400 physicians and advanced practice clinicians in about 160 clinics, as well as other healthcare services. Intermountain Healthcare is one of the largest and most resourceful healthcare networks in the intermountain West of the United States.

“This milestone highlights the important role laboratories have played in combating COVID-19 and keeping the public safe,” said Karen Brownell, Assistant Vice President of Laboratory Services at Intermountain Healthcare. “I’m so proud of what our caregivers have accomplished. From our curbside caregivers who collected samples in triple digit heat and the freezing cold, to our lab caregivers and scientists across the Intermountain Healthcare system who process samples 24 hours a day, we’ve met the challenge head on to serve the community.”

Partnerships Aided Intermountain During COVID-19

Intermountain Healthcare has faced many hurdles and learned many lessons over the course of performing one million COVID-19 tests. These challenges have ranged from logistical challenges to supply chain shortages that forced the organization to adapt multiple times throughout the past year.

August 2020 interview with Bert Lopansri, MD, on scaling up the lab
During an August 2020 interview with Anne Pendo, MD, Bert Lopansri, MD, discussed key ways Intermountain Healthcare Laboratories were able to develop and scale COVID-19 testing. Since that time, Intermountain Healthcare Laboratories has passed one million COVID-19 tests performed—the milestone significant for a health system laboratory of its kind. (Photo via YouTube)

The first hurdle Intermountain Healthcare faced was supply chain shortages that made scaling COVID-19 testing difficult. “The demand for supplies worldwide was unprecedented and it hindered our ability to ramp up testing,” said Bert Lopansri, MD, Associate Medical Director for Infectious Diseases and Medical Director for Microbiology at Intermountain Healthcare. “Thanks to our partnerships with the state lab and ARUP Laboratories we worked together to share supplies and ensure we could process samples to meet the needs of the community.”

SARS-CoV-2 Testing Methods Changed as Needs Presented

In the early days of the pandemic, procuring supplies was so difficult that Intermountain Central Lab had to consider unusual supply channels, even working with the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District to secure testing supplies at one point. The multiple sources of supplies compounded the difficulties in scaling by forcing laboratorians to revalidate tests with each supply change. The SARS-CoV-2 test method that Intermountain uses has changed at least four times since the beginning of the pandemic, each change influenced by changes in the supply chain.

Another challenge that Intermountain overcame on the path to one million COVID-19 tests has been logistical difficulties. Establishing logistics early has been a key part of Intermountain’s success, says Brownell. Intermountain set up 25 test sites throughout Utah as they began testing. They simultaneously developed a courier system while establishing personnel planning, which helped them to collect and analyze samples expeditiously.

Ultimately, one of the biggest sources of Intermountain’s success has been the emphasis on accuracy, says Lopansri. “The results of a COVID-19 test don’t just have consequences for patients, but for everyone around them,” Lopansri explained. “We don’t want patients to have a false sense of security based on negative results from less accurate tests when they may truly be infected. Our commitment is to provide the highest quality, accurate test possible.”

As Intermountain passes its one millionth COVID-19 test, their adaptiveness to supply chain issues, emphasis on logistics, and dedication to accuracy are at the core of their success. The lessons they have learned helped them to scale from 14 tests on their first day of COVID-19 testing to over 7,000 a day today, while providing a 24-hour turnaround time for over 90% of their tests.

Clinical laboratory directors can learn from the lessons of Intermountain Healthcare Laboratories on the journey to one million COVID-19 tests. By focusing on adaptiveness—while not sacrificing quality—clinical laboratories can effectively scale their testing programs and better serve their patients.

—By Caleb Williams, Editor, COVID-19 STAT