News

ASCP Toolbox Helps Laboratory Leaders Advocate for Their Teams

Jan 4, 2024, 15:28 PM by Susan Montgomery, MBA

In today’s healthcare environment, budgets are tight. C-suite executives must allocate scarce resources across an entire health system. So, it behooves laboratory leaders to be able to effectively make a case as to why their laboratory should receive more funding to hire more staff, increase salaries, purchase additional equipment, and coordinate strategic planning.

“Clinical laboratory leaders, even seasoned leaders, need to understand their operational, financial, and clinical role in the health system,” says Ihab Abumuhor, MSHCA, MSCS, MLS(ASCP)SBB, director of laboratory services at Torrance Memorial Medical Center, in Torrance, California, near Los Angeles. “By comprehensively understanding these three aspects, clinical laboratory leaders can develop a more robust and holistic strategic plan. This plan can then address operational efficiency, financial sustainability, and clinical excellence, ultimately contributing to the overall success of the health system.”

ASCP’s Negotiation and Advocacy Toolbox supports laboratory leaders in this quest. Funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Negotiation and Advocacy Toolbox equips clinical laboratory directors and managers with practical tools and education to help them demonstrate the value of their laboratories and advocate for their needs to decision-makers within their health system administration.

Through the Negotiation and Advocacy Toolbox, ASCP offers resources, templates, guidance, and best practices to address five core pillars needed to advocate for your laboratory. The Negotiation and Advocacy Toolbox was developed by three laboratory leaders and subject matter experts, some of whom represent laboratories recognized as Leading Laboratories, a recognition offered by ASCP and The Joint Commission. The Negotiation and Advocacy Toolbox utilizes workforce data and strategies ASCP and its members have collected to support laboratory leaders in effectively advocating for their laboratories’ needs.

“I dedicate a significant amount of time to cultivating trust with C-suite leadership and enhancing the laboratory's visibility,” says Mr. Abumuhor. “It’s important for leadership and staff to recognize that you consistently champion the cause of your laboratory. At the same time everyone needs to understand that without adequate funding, our ability to function is compromised. It’s crucial for individuals to grasp this reality.”

In the previous year, his laboratory achieved savings exceeding $1.5 million for its health system through the introduction of new testing platforms, negotiations of health system agreements, and standardization of processes. “This helped elevate visibility of the laboratory and gain trust of the C-suite, which will eventually help secure additional funding for the laboratory,” he says. “For example, recently, my vice president informed me that there was surplus capital in the system from the previous year. He expressed the possibility of allocating those funds to my laboratory, provided I could present a compelling case demonstrating the overall return on investment for the health system.”

Pillars help guide toolbox usage

In August 2023, ASCP introduced the first two of five pillars of the program: 1) promoting laboratory visibility; and 2) creating a positive culture within the laboratory that nurtures the environment as the best place to work within pathology and laboratory medicine.

The focus on building laboratory visibility is about how to make one’s laboratory more visible to a health system’s senior leadership team as well as to the public at large. The Negotiation and Advocacy Toolbox contains materials and tips on how to achieve this goal. Pillar 2 focuses on people and culture and includes suggestions on how to provide hiring justification, initiate succession planning, alleviate burnout, and support and recognize staff. Cultivating diverse, lifelong learners and fostering the next generation of patient-focused laboratory advocates within the clinical laboratory is part of this second pillar.

Pillars 1 and 2 were the focus of an education session at the ASCP 2023 Annual Meeting. Presenters Christina Nickel, MHA, MLS(ASCP)CM, CPHQ, immediate past chair for the ASCP Council for Laboratory Management and Administration, and Laboratory Director for Bryan Medical Center, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Aaron Odegard, MS, MLS(ASCP)SMCM, a past chair of the ASCP Council of Laboratory Professionals, talked about promoting laboratory visibility (Pillar 1) and creating a positive laboratory culture (Pillar 2) to support laboratory advocacy efforts and negotiating on the laboratory’s behalf.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has given the laboratory an opportunity to be viewed as a significant resource,” says Ms. Nickel. “Everybody I have talked to in administration is saying that they need to reduce their costs, but there are times when the laboratory cannot operate without hiring more staff. The [Negotiation and Advocacy] Toolbox provides steps to justify that expense and what data to use to make your case of where the laboratory is now and what the consequences are if we hire more staff.”

Building strategic relationships

Mr. Odegard discussed how to engage and retain existing laboratory staff, as well as building an inclusive laboratory team where all staff members feel valued. The Negotiation and Advocacy Toolbox includes materials such as interview questions and how to dive deeper into specific topics, such as engaging staff as ambassadors for the department, employee rounding to make sure all laboratory voices feel heard, strategies to promote staff development and assess leadership potential, or to reach out into the community and build strategic relationships.

Mr. Abumuhor joined Ms. Nickel and Mr. Odegard for a Roundtable Discussion during the ASCP 2023 Annual Meeting, where they presented case-based scenarios faced by laboratory leadership and facilitated a brainstorming session on ways to address these challenges using Toolbox techniques and strategies.

“I divided my presentation into laboratory visibility and professional development and trusted leadership, which falls under the pillar of people and culture,” he says. “Enhancing visibility is a dual effort, encompassing internal recognition within the health system and external awareness within the community. A visible laboratory contributes to the attraction of high-caliber talent.”

Additional pillars are set to launch in 2024, focusing on quality outcomes and laboratory finance. “For any strategy to work you really must know your laboratory’s financial picture, so that you can educate your health system leaders,” Mr. Abumuhor says.

“Understanding the profit margins associated with each test is essential. Consider the impact of increased patient revenue on your laboratory’s position within the broader health system. It’s not solely about revenue generation; it’s also about whether your laboratory is contributing positively to the bottom line. Collaborating on cost-cutting, efficiency and productivity measures are equally crucial.”

He encounters colleagues who express that they don’t engage in outreach programs but notes that it is important for the laboratory to recognize that the value of the laboratory extends beyond revenue generation through outreach. “The laboratory contributes significantly to various aspects such as population health, reducing length of stay, education, early detection, and disease prevention, as well as effective test utilization. Enhancing our communication is vital to clearly convey the diverse value the laboratory brings, and it’s crucial for us to articulate this effectively,” he says.

Mr. Abumuhor, Ms. Nickel, and Mr. Odegard were all part of the team that helped develop the ASCP Negotiation and Advocacy Toolbox. Now that the first two pillars of the ASCP Negotiation and Advocacy Toolbox have rolled out, they are working on developing the pillars focusing on quality, service and growth, and laboratory finance. This involves identifying resources to hold up as best practices, from using analytics, turn-around time, dashboard metrics, building utility metrics, process improvement goals, and more. The ASCP Negotiation and Advocacy Toolbox will provide a library of these free, ready-to-use resources for ASCP members and the greater laboratory community to access to continue advocacy efforts for the needs of their laboratories.

For more information on the Toolbox, visit www.supportcdconelab.org/toolbox.