As healthcare systems adjust to unprecedented circumstances, prioritizing flexibility could ensure long-term sustainability for laboratories.
Today’s laboratories today face rising and unpredictable demand, shrinking resources and concerns around cost. While these challenges are not new, efforts to address them have been accelerated by the ongoing global pandemic. Making the right investments in infrastructure and new technologies can help labs manage the additional workload and answer the underlying challenges of healthcare beyond COVID-19.
Past the point of no return
Diagnostic testing has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. However, viewing the need for increased capacity as temporary could be a costly mistake. In reality, the volume and variety of testing is likely to remain high as governments, communities and individuals recognize the importance of diagnostics.
Moreover, routine testing is expected to rise as social restrictions are relaxed and COVID-19 testing subsides. A recent study around the short-term impact of the pandemic found that routine follow-up of patients with communicable and non-communicable diseases decreased significantly during lockdown periods1. This widespread postponement of necessary testing creates higher demand further down the road.
Uncovering underlying challenges
The laboratory ecosystem is complex. Changes to one aspect often have a knock-on effect in other areas—as has been the case with increasing capacity. To cope with a sudden spike in demand, many labs have adopted a 24-hour working model and begun running tests on systems from outside organizations.
At one lab, leveraging infrastructure from the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and the National Tuberculosis Elimination Programme (NTEP) had the potential to double capacity.2 However, with an industry-wide shortage of trained personnel, such a rapid expansion could lead to technicians’ workloads becoming unsustainable—compromising the quality of results.
Balancing limited staff resources is not the only challenge associated with growing capacity. A number of logistic hurdles can lead to inefficiencies. This includes procurement of corresponding commodities for testing and scaling-up sample collection and transportation efforts. Clearly, a long-term solution is needed.