Becoming a Leading Laboratory: Elevating Awareness and Quality

Jul 5, 2023, 11:37 AM by Susan Montgomery

When medical laboratories demonstrate to healthcare leaders, providers, and patients their commitment to excellence and quality, they improve the overall delivery of patient care. That is what the Leading Laboratories program seeks to accomplish.

Established in 2021 by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) and The Joint Commission, the Leading Laboratories designation recognizes laboratory leadership and team members who prioritize effective, high-quality, and safe patient care. It also recognizes laboratory teams that have been educated in scientifically proven methods of leadership, mentorship, and innovative practice modalities.

In the past year, two hospitals underwent a valuable team-based exercise. They were the first to achieve the two-year Leading Laboratories designation, including a review of their outcomes, indicators, metrics, and evidence. Torrance Memorial Medical Center, in Torrance, CA, became the first in the nation to receive the Leading Laboratories designation in September 2022. Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne, IN, was designated a Leading Laboratory in January 2023.

In addition to reviewing their health system’s outcomes, indicators, metrics, and evidence, each applicant had to demonstrate excellence in four key areas: elevating quality outcomes, supporting professional development, cultivating trusted leadership, and promoting laboratory visibility.

Torrance Memorial’s path to Leading Laboratory success

“Achieving the Leading Laboratories designation conveys to our senior leadership within Torrance Memorial and those within our community that our medical laboratory has set the gold standard for quality,” says Ihab Abumuhor, MS, MLS(ASCP), SBB, MSHCA, director of Laboratory Services at Torrance Memorial.

Torrance Memorial is a 512-bed, nonprofit medical center in the Los Angeles area that serves nearly 885,000 residents of the South Bay, Peninsula, and Harbor communities. The community-based hospital has an extensive integrated system of physicians and comprehensive medical services. In 2018, Torrance Memorial affiliated with Cedars-Sinai under the umbrella of Cedars-Sinai Health System to further enhance access, coordination, and quality of care, and to bring more expertise in neuroscience, cancer, and heart failure to the communities it serves.

Mr. Abumuhor joined Torrance Memorial two years ago, after more than 20 years at Cedars-Sinai, in Los Angeles, where he was Associate Director of Transfusion Medicine. Since then, he has focused on standardizing Torrance Memorial’s laboratory systems to align with the laboratory systems within the Cedars-Sinai Health System.

A key reason he sought for his laboratory to pursue the Leading Laboratories designation was to elevate the visibility of his laboratory team to ensure that every member of pathology and the medical laboratory is recognized for their dedication and commitment to excellence. “As laboratory director, I feel it is my job to champion the work that our laboratory team does,” he explains. Yet he also encourages staff members to work toward continuous improvement across all systems of the laboratory.

With the blessing of Torrance Memorial’s senior leadership, Mr. Abumuhor and his managers set out to review the roadmap of metrics the laboratory had to meet to become a Leading Laboratory. Initially, the process seemed daunting, he notes, adding that it became more manageable once they broke it down into individual components.

Torrance Memorial Medical
Torrance Memorial Medical Center, in Torrance, CA, became the first in the nation to receive the Leading Laboratories designation in September 2022.

They devised a five-year strategic plan based on six key pillars: people and culture, quality, financials, innovation, education, and growth, which the Department of Pathology and Clinical Laboratory (DPCL) is working to implement. Below are a few examples of how the laboratory is working to achieve these goals.

People and Culture: Torrance Memorial’s emergency department sees approximately 90,000 patients a year, which translates into a high-level volume of testing that is needed from all departments of the laboratory. To meet this need, Torrance Memorial is striving to develop high-performing teams.

In addition to supporting career development, Mr. Abumuhor and his laboratory supervisors are committed to strengthening their team by fostering a motivating work environment, supporting career development, and recognizing and rewarding the contributions of both individuals and teams.

Quality: In 2021, the DPCL implemented a robust quality management program. The quality program helped define, establish, and maintain a collaborative, systematic, and organization-wide approach to quality management.

Innovation: Other initiatives have included implementing core laboratory automation to reduce the outsourcing of select tests, increasing the volume of outreach business, reducing turnaround time, and improving efficiency and productivity. The DPCL has also launched a quarterly newsletter to inform colleagues and community members about these initiatives and to encourage engagement.

This process has reinforced Mr. Abumuhor’s conviction that working closely with Torrance Memorial’s marketing and communications team is essential to let others know about all the laboratory is accomplishing on behalf of quality patient care. “Our marketing staff is very enthusiastic about learning what our laboratory is doing and finding ways to tell our story,” he says.

Growth: A future goal is to expand its blood bank to include a mobile blood unit that can go into the community, bearing the logo of Torrance Memorial. “Our goal is to continue to implement more innovative, timely and high-quality testing solutions to improve efficiency, productivity and meet our customers’ future needs,” Mr. Abumuhor says.

While Torrance Memorial has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a Best Hospital for 11 consecutive years and is ranked 11th in the state and 5th in the Los Angeles area for overall hospital quality, the Leading Laboratories designation has helped boost its stature in the region even further.

Lutheran Hospital turns goals into reality

Just because one has achieved a high level of recognition doesn’t mean a hospital or laboratory can rest on its laurels. In this ever-evolving environment of healthcare, Brandon Duttaroy, laboratory director for the six-hospital Lutheran Health Network in Indiana, likes to stay one step ahead of the competition.

Mr. Duttaroy previously served as administrative director for Lutheran Hospital, a level 2 trauma center that serves as the hub of Lutheran Health Network. When he learned about the Leading Laboratories recognition program, Mr. Duttaroy took the initiative to challenge his laboratory team to be the best core laboratory they could, while also identifying any gaps their facility might have.

“Leading Laboratories raises our visibility,” he says. “Within our market, there are two other big health systems with whom we compete. This recognition signifies high quality, trustworthiness, and results as we care for patients within our community. I want our entire laboratory to stand out, especially to physicians in independent practices and patients in our community.”

When he embarked on the Leading Laboratories application process, Mr. Duttaroy had the backing of the hospital’s senior leadership, with whom he had a long-established rapport and trust. The leadership was on board with his vision for Lutheran Hospital’s laboratory to become a core hub for the entire health system network. “Leadership felt everything I have led them on our health system’s path has come to realization, so I had their support,” he says.

To get started, Mr. Duttaroy met with his quality manager Tracy Meihls, BA, MLS(ASCP). “The process seemed daunting at first,” Mr. Duttaroy says. “Once we sat down and attacked it one rubric at a time, it became more manageable.”

While collecting the necessary data for the application, Ms. Meihls also identified areas where the laboratory performed well and gaps in service lines where it could improve. Together, Mr. Duttaroy and Ms. Meihls developed a narrative on their application of how their laboratory was performing overall and created a plan to address process improvement in the areas of the laboratory that needed shoring up.

Leadership development needed improvement, especially since Lutheran Hospital laboratory had experienced staff turnover due to attrition and retirement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are working on onboarding for those joining the laboratory, and we are creating programs to develop leaders among our younger employees,” Mr. Duttaroy says. “Mentoring is a key component of leadership development. Ultimately, we are working to improve the overall culture.”

Another area that needed improvement was education. Like healthcare systems nationwide, Lutheran Hospital is seeking ways to develop pathways for young professionals to go into medical laboratory careers. Lutheran Hospital’s laboratory currently accepts three to four medical laboratory science students for a rotation each semester. Going forward, Mr. Duttaroy has set a goal to eventually reestablish the medical laboratory science program that Lutheran Hospital had up until about 10 years ago.

As for his vision for Lutheran Hospital’s laboratory to serve as the hub for the entire Lutheran Health System Network, Mr. Duttaroy and his team frequently review their laboratory’s quality data, quality management, blood utilization, and inventory data to ensure that the laboratory has the resources necessary so that leadership teams at each of the network’s hospitals feel they are supported. In short, it’s a continuous review and improvement process as the network strives to advance the patient experience and improve population outcomes.

Both Mr. Duttaroy and Mr. Abumuhor strongly encourage other laboratories to pursue the Leading Laboratories designation. Many laboratories have already achieved a significant amount of the criteria needed and simply need to compile that data into a blueprint with a strategy for the future. As Mr. Duttaroy sums it up, “I like to be in the driver’s seat being proactive, rather than reactive.”

“The process laboratories undertake in order to become a Leading Laboratory is both an opportunity to showcase innovative best practices as well as a tool to guide improvement in areas where they might need more attention," says Alexandra Brown, MD, FASCP, Chief Officer of Medical Quality for ASCP. "The Leading Laboratories application is like a portfolio that serves as a roadmap for building a strong, resilient laboratory."

Learn about the Leading Laboratories program at www.