Unlocking the potential of diagnostic laboratories in healthcare

We ask Mr Marc Lingnau of Abbott on how healthcare can further leverage on labs to deliver better care and value for patients

Marc Lingnau
Mr Marc Lingnau

Mr Marc Lingnau is Divisional Vice President, Asia Pacific Commercial Operations at Abbott. In this interview with Hospital Management Asia, Mr Lingnau shares his views on the current and future trends in diagnostic laboratories, and how labs can be a crucial facet of the healthcare value chain.

Question 1: From what you have seen over the past few years, how has the role of diagnostics evolved, and how would you expect it to evolve in the near future? Are there some industry trends driving these developments?

A very important trend over the past few years has been the tremendous consolidation in healthcare, driven by the need to find ever-larger economies of scale. So, laboratories – just like many other parts of the system – have tried to do the same. Essentially by leveraging fixed costs to do more with the same amount of investment and finding ways to improve efficiency in the system. These are all important, as consolidation is expected to continue to be an important driver of change in the years ahead, but there’s more to it when we look deeper into what’s happening.

There will be interest in building surge capacity – it is expected to become a feature of how strategic planners will have to confirm preparedness for the next pandemic. For example, how do we build flexibility into our system so that we are able to cope with the asymmetrical demands of a healthcare crisis in the future? Such decisions will always challenge normal ROI (Return on Investment) calculations, but will become necessary considerations as labs plan for the future.

We will also likely take the next steps toward providing more meaningful information for physicians from the data generated in the lab. There is benefit here that hasn’t been fully realised, so we can expect more advances in early detection, predictive and personalised approaches.

Question 2: Has the field of diagnostics or the perception of it been impacted by COVID-19? How?

The pandemic has forever changed the healthcare landscape including the needs and expectations of patients. Hospitals and clinicians have been thinking about the critical role the laboratory has played. Undoubtedly, our experience during this global pandemic has reinforced the belief that the modern laboratory presents a crucial and enduring value to healthcare delivery.

What has changed, though, is that this notion has begun to find its way beyond the laboratory. We find topics such as PCR testing, the role of antibody tests, or the value of rapid antigen screening are now even discussed in casual conversations amongst our friends and relatives from outside the diagnostics world. That awareness, and the appreciation that goes with it, should inspire us to further invest in what diagnostic science can do.

Question 3: Are there some particular areas in diagnostics that are especially under-tapped or underutilised at the moment?

Despite being in the spotlight because of the current pandemic situation, there are a lot of ways the lab continues to be underutilised. We need to step up efforts to ensure policy makers understand how crucial diagnostics laboratories are, how cost effective they are, and how profitable many of them can be.

The other obvious area is data management. Labs generate an ocean of data that is just starting to get used in addressing opportunities in population health or to optimise the patient journey within a healthcare setting. For example, data automation can potentially reduce human error and free up valuable time of lab personnel so that they can focus on more complex activities that require human intervention. Data analytics can drive insights to boost productivity and efficiency of lab operations.

Question 4: Do you see increasing awareness amongst stakeholders on the value of diagnostics? What are the key steps to be taken to increase buy-in from stakeholders, to acknowledge the importance of diagnostics and invest into the area?

As diagnostic technologies improve, there is an increasing awareness that a dollar spent on the right diagnosis makes both financial and clinical sense. COVID-19 has made this obvious – having the right investment and capabilities in diagnostics is critical for any healthcare system. We know from our own research in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit that healthcare leaders want labs to play a larger role in strategy and 95% of them want labs to lead the practice of healthcare analytics. We also know that clinicians and healthcare providers want better communication and more guidance in lab reports.  The same is also true for patients.

All of this leads us in the direction of making sure that we help our clients and partners advocate their value better, so that they can address the underlying promise the lab can ultimately help people lead healthier lives.

Abbott has aggregated case-studies that highlight how cross-functional collaboration with active involvement of the laboratory can lead to measurably better performance in healthcare systems. We have also created the UNIVANTS of Healthcare Excellence Awards in association with leading healthcare organisations to recognise excellence in this arena.

Question 5: In your opinion, how is the current state of diagnostics in APAC as compared to other regions? Would stronger diagnostic capabilities / labs playing a stronger role in healthcare value chains be particularly crucial for APAC?

The Asia-Pacific region continues to be dynamic, full of promise and potential, and incredibly fast-paced. The level of diversity within this region is incredible. A significant source of this diversity comes from the vastly different levels of laboratory consolidation, from Australia on one end of the spectrum to India on the other. Additionally, we can look to the considerable variation in healthcare expenditures as a percentage of GDP as another key aspect of this diversity. Therefore, as an organisation we continue to be very focused on addressing the unique needs in each of the geographies in which we work.

We know that the laboratory plays a vital role in ensuring people proactively manage their health. We need to collaborate to encourage people to get back to regular, preventative care to manage their health and live their best lives possible.