Looking Ahead to 2021: Trends During and After the Pandemic
I wish I had a crystal ball.
That I don’t has never been more obvious than when I reviewed what I wrote last January in Looking Ahead at 2020 – 6 Ways to Prepare for Disruption. Funny, “worldwide pandemic” wasn’t mentioned (though I guess I get a point for “disruption”?).
For our industry, the health crisis proved to be the boom in business nobody wanted, but we rose to its challenges nonetheless. As testing for COVID quickly ramped up, that typical ebb and flow of business that a lab navigates through during a normal year went to “11” and stayed there. Our focus here at U.S. HealthTek has always been to keep up with the demand, and our clients kept us busy. We saw a large number of start-up labs appear to meet the demands of COVID testing. We also noticed that the extra revenue labs brought in made it possible for them to address long-simmering IT needs and upgrades they had put off. In other instances, some who had started 2020 with a list of IT “to-do’s” shelved them earlier in the year. Now we’re seeing that those projects are definitely thawing, and I venture to guess there will be a significant uptick as labs re-engage in any and all work they had planned on for 2020. All of this adds up to a demand for experienced, quality IT professionals, and so we are preparing for a busy year.
To those start-ups doing just COVID testing and to those labs who pivoted to making it their primary work: you may want to consider doing some math. If we do vaccinate 100 million in the first 100 days of the Biden administration, that’ll be almost 30 percent of the population. After another three or four months from that, those numbers increase further. Hopefully by summer we’ll be seeing a reduction of cases – and related, testing will inevitably decline. Labs in general, especially those start-ups, will definitely need to diversify to keep up in a market that is crowded already. Preparing for that now is advised.
The pandemic didn’t really slow the industry’s acceptance of cloud-based technology. In all the work with labs we’ve done this year, all but one moved their data to the cloud. The technology and security the cloud offers is significant. With it, the lab is able to avoid the expensive maintenance an onsite system requires. We’ve been especially successful moving labs to this because of our expertise, which allows us to make sure that it’s done right. Another development in this area is that, in addition to the big three services (AWS, Microsoft, and Google), there have been additional, smaller private cloud data centers popping up, though for us it’s not a direction we’ve taken clients yet. But watch for that option to grow.
Owning the Data
Another trend that has benefited our clients is the prospect of a lab owning their own data. Our clients see the clear advantage of this partnership as opposed to relying on a third-party vendor who “manages” their data and thus also ends up owning it. More professionals in the industry have become aware of how valuable this data is. Yes, we’re vertical service providers, and our offerings are broad. We do anything and everything from infrastructure, project management, staff management, revenue recognition, strategic initiatives and more – a complete spectrum of functions and services. But we stop at owning data. We know labs need to be agile and move quickly, be able to maintain quality, and take a long-term approach to their business. Key to that is owning your own data, and current and new clients really get that now more than ever, appreciating our partnership-based approach in ensuring it happens.
One more point to review from last year: fulCRM, our CRM solution. We have been incorporating it into our clients’ labs, and there is a lot of interest in it throughout the industry. (If you haven’t seen our video on it, it’s here.) The system, designed by our team to be lab-specific and less expensive than other solutions, facilitates customer loyalty and satisfaction in a simple, direct, effective way. Like all our products and services, we’re looking at further improvements. Internally we’re thinking of adding a supply ordering feature, and currently getting feedback on that idea. As 2021 rolls in and COVID rolls out with it, labs are going to need to be more competitive, and our fulCRM certainly offers an edge.
There is one more aspect to the coming year I’ve got my eye on – but it’s such a big topic, I’m saving it for next month’s article: patient-directed lab orders. Has COVID “trained” patients to bypass doctors and go straight to the lab? Stayed tuned for that. Meanwhile, here’s to a healthy, thriving 2021.