A distribution perspective on advocating for clinical laboratories amid transformation

Sponsored: Cardinal Health- May 2024 – The Journal of Healthcare Contracting

To advocate for the value of distribution in the healthcare ecosystem, the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA) regularly meets and holds annual conferences to bring industry leaders from across the spectrum of healthcare together to share, learn and plan for the future.

“The unique needs of the laboratory industry are brought to the forefront of the conversation along with other key elements of the healthcare supply chain,” said HIDA Board Member Emily Berlin, Vice President Laboratory Marketing & Aero-Med Commercial Sales and Operations, Cardinal Health.

As one of the largest healthcare distributors in the United States, Cardinal Health™ has decades of experience helping lab customers improve their supply chain resiliency and operate more efficiently through a dedication to deliver quality products, value-adding services and reliable supply chain solutions.

“While those of us that are entrenched within distribution understand the fundamental role that distributors play to both large health systems as well as small independent practices, it wasn’t until the pandemic that the true importance of distribution was more broadly understood,” Berlin said.

While the effects of the pandemic have been mitigated to an extent, the major factors impacting clinical laboratories remain consistent: a continuing workforce shortage, decreasing reimbursements, ongoing regulatory legislation and industry consolidation, to name a few. At the same time, diagnostic innovation evolves swiftly, driven by the needs of an aging population, high rates of chronic disease, rapid technological advancements and a greater demand for personalized medicine. The question on the minds of industry leaders remains: How can we best support our lab customers in their pursuit of quality testing amid transformation and constraints?

Understanding the regulatory landscape

At annual industry association conferences like the HIDA Executive Conference, topics of discussion often center on ongoing and upcoming federal regulations, how these regulations may impact labs and how organizations can best advocate for their lab customers. Current legislation being discussed includes:

  • The FAST PASS Bill, introduced to expedite the medical supply chain during emergencies
  • The Saving Access to Laboratory Services Act (SALSA), meant to update data reporting requirements and payment methodology under the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA)
  • FDA proposal to increase oversight by reclassifying Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs)

“It is our goal to understand what these regulatory impacts are going to look like, and if— and how — we can help shape them as advocates for our customers,” Berlin stated.

Labs across the country are still burdened by the shortage of qualified professionals due to lack of qualified applicants, reduction of medical technology programs, decreased visibility of the field and increasing retirement rates. With pending regulation potentially compounding these shortages, labs are looking to their distributors for proactive solutions that can help ease their burden by enabling them to do more with potentially limited resources.

The impact of innovative diagnostic and treatment techniques

The essential diagnostic information generated in the lab is critical to enabling precision medicine and personalized treatment. The capabilities of molecular diagnostics, CRISPR, AI and machine learning, and other disruptive technologies continue to evolve, representing potential for earlier detection, more effective disease management and even new cures. For example, the FDA recently approved a gene editing tool for a therapy that can cure sickle cell anemia using CRISPR to edit the DNA found in patient’s own stem cells.1

Additionally, lower-cost, more portable point of care (POC) testing methods are in development to speed up testing, help control disease spread and enable care accessibility for people who have difficulty accessing in-person treatment centers. With testing becoming more decentralized, it will be critical for POC testing to continue advancing to support public health and patient care.

Driving value for Cardinal Health lab customers

Through its distribution offering, Cardinal Health plays a role in shaping healthcare delivery and its evolution. To support customers in this changing landscape, the organization continues to invest in new distribution capabilities, including expanded capacity, new distribution centers and innovative robotics to optimize supply chain efficiency.

Cardinal Health also invests in innovative solutions to help customers meet changing demands, including a custom kitting solution designed to help healthcare facilities streamline operations, reduce errors and improve the patient experience. It enables Cardinal Health to support customers during each stage of the process, from inception to delivery, by creating custom specimen collection kits tailored to a facility’s unique requirements. Collection kits can also be built with Cardinal Health™ Brand Laboratory Products that deliver additional savings to customers.

Though industry summits like HIDA are opportunities to look ahead, supporting and advocating for the laboratory is an everyday responsibility. Cardinal Health is intensely focused on helping lab customers work more efficiently, driving value across workflows, promoting supply chain resiliency and supporting quality testing for the best possible patient experience.

“I get energized by thinking about the important role that testing plays in a patient’s healthcare journey, how our healthcare ecosystem is evolving and how Cardinal Health can support and collaborate with our lab customers as they evolve as well.” Berlin said.

References: 1 FDA approves first gene therapies to treat patients with sickle cell disease. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published December 8, 2023. Accessed March 13, 2024. www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-gene-therapies-treat-patients-sickle-cell-disease

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