Kaiser Permanente Laboratory Systems Aim to Provide ‘Lab of the Future’

Feature Story
image from Flickr -- generic image of clinic door inside Target
Image from Flickr

Cindy, a substitute teacher, noticed the Skittle-sized mole on her leg, the one she’d been watching for months, looked slightly different one day. But with three kids, a dog and a husband on the road for work, she didn’t have time to schedule a visit to her clinic for an exam.

Thomas, who takes care of his elderly father, had been feeling extremely tired lately and was afraid his anemia was back. Making that drive to the clinic was always a hassle, so he put off getting that blood test again.

There was a time not very long ago when Cindy and Thomas had no other choice than to go to their doctor’s office or the hospital if they needed care. But not today. Now, health plan members now want easy access and they want it closer to home, in the same area where they already run their every-day errands.

logo-target-clinic-150x44A great example of Kaiser Permanente’s response to this need is in Southern California, where the organization recently opened four multi-functional clinics inside Target stores. These clinics make it even easier for members to take care of minor illnesses, injuries, vaccinations, screening check-ups and lab-related tests while also taking care of their other shopping needs.

“Patients and members want convenience and having our presence in Target stores is one way to offer that,” said JiYeon Kim, MD, MPH, physician-in-charge, Clinical Chemistry & Laboratory Informatics, Southern California Permanente Medical Group Regional Reference Laboratories. “People have been excited about seeing us there. They do their shopping, get their Pap test and get other lab tests done. They can bring in their children for sports physicals and to get vaccinated. The convenience of it has been a big win.”

A close up of a line of clear test tubes being filled with green liquidThe inclusion of Kaiser Permanente’s laboratory services in Target stores is part of a larger nationwide strategy to offer a variety of health care services to both Kaiser Permanente members and non-members out of the traditional medical office building or hospital. Expanded health services include pediatric and adolescent care, well-woman care, family planning, and management of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. These walk-in clinics are staffed by licensed nurse practitioners and Kaiser Permanente licensed vocational nurses, and have physicians available via telemedicine consultations.

Improved service and convenience are the goals of the modern laboratory, so are affordability and price transparency. At Kaiser Permanente’s Target outlets, prices for services — laboratory and otherwise — are listed up front.

“Our prices are transparent, and according to surveys, people are coming back because they find it convenient and affordable,” Dr. Kim said. “They can do their shopping and get their kids vaccinated. They like the concept.”

“Automation” is another example of Kaiser Permanente responding to the needs of its members and patients. Waiting for that positive or negative test result can be stressful, but with automation — which at its core is a highly technical transport system that rapidly, efficiently and more safely processes specimens throughout the clinical laboratory.

A machine that it's hard to tell what is happening. There are tall test tubes that get shuttled along a white conveyer belt. It looks very clean.

An automated lab machine where test tubes are on an assembly line and go through various stops along the line for different functions.

Each of Kaiser Permanente’s seven regions has embraced the power of automation. “An automated lab like ours is amazing to see,” said Jeffrey Smith, manager, Laboratory Information Systems & Services, Northwest Region. “But more importantly, we are getting results back quicker, getting our patients to their diagnosis or on the right medication quicker, and all of this at a lower cost per patient.”

Other areas of advancement for Kaiser Permanente laboratory systems include genetics testing and a shift to molecular testing in the treatment of infectious disease. Both of these are highly specialized and promise to bring more rapid and precise diagnoses as well as peace of mind to members.

The test tubes are coming down one conveyer belt and then doing a 180 turn to go in the opposite direction.

Test tubes are held in tall wire baskets which allow them to pass along the conveyer belts securely.

“We are intensely focused on how to best meet the evolving needs of our members and patients,” said Patrick T. Courneya, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer for Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. “Our objective is to ensure wise investment in and thoughtful use of laboratory services for decades to come. We know we must meet these rising consumer expectations without compromising the value they get from well-coordinated care.

“At Kaiser Permanente, we combine world-class laboratory talent, a history of nation leading quality and service and the trust and expectations of our more than 10 million members to advance our work to deliver the laboratory of the future.”