When I went to the American Clinical Laboratory Association’s annual meeting, I…well, was unsure of what to expect. Held in Washington, D.C. on March 9th, for most of us it was our first outing since the pandemic, and the first surprise was that for those who were able to attend, they were glad they did. I sure was. After spending time at the ACLA Annual Conference , I discovered a few behind-the-scenes details that I did not expect to find.
It was inspiring to hear of the tremendous efforts and dedication from ACLA members to fully appreciate their critical role in getting us through the pandemic. None of us had ever been through anything like this in our lifetime, and while healthcare workers and those creating the vaccines were heroically on the front lines, this conference made us realize that lab workers were just as critical. Speaker after speaker, conversation after conversation emphasized our industry’s ability to meet the call to arms – not just in creating the tests but in dealing with supply issues with one hand while fighting misinformation with the other.
The Paradigm Shift
“This event shined a light on the monumental achievement made possible by the lab industry,” said Mike Pratt, our VP. “From testing the tests, the actual testing itself, and facilitating, labs played a critical role. And while it’s obvious we weren’t prepared for COVID, now that we’ve made it through a national health crisis, we have learned what is necessary to have in place to avoid the challenges that we faced initially and throughout the pandemic. This will allow laboratories to provide testing in future crises without burdening the system so much.” (Mike and founder Bryan Firestone attended the event with me.)
Many opined that there was a paradigm shift in laboratory testing. NBC/MSNBC contributor and former White House Policy Director Dr. Kavita Patel put it all in perspective when she said, “If five years ago you told me that members of my family would know the difference between a PCR test and an antigen one, I’d say you were crazy.” She continued about how the “window has been unlocked and there is a higher understanding of what the labs do in terms of testing.” This is an important point that our team had not realized. Because of the pandemic, most people are now much more aware of laboratory testing and the impact it can have on your health. Mike again: “If there is a silver lining in what the pandemic has wrought, it might be that there is now recognition and understanding of the importance of laboratory testing in the general public and a focus by laboratories and health systems on how to administer lab tests moving forward more quickly and efficiency.”
Highlights of ACLA
Speaker Dr. Ren Salerno of the CDC recognized that their reporting structure was not as efficient as it should be. He spoke about how the sheer volume of COVID data caught them unprepared. The CDC has a Data Modernization initiative in an effort to standardize data sharing across federal and state public health landscapes that is “not just about technology, but also about putting the right people, processes, and policies in place to help us solve problems before they happen and reduce the harm caused by the problems that do happen.”
Patel’s speech was on patient care and policy. She laid out the inefficiency (lunacy?) of insurance companies demanding approval for treatment, even for operations. In many cases the providers must get pre-authorization approval from the patients’ health insurance for the work the doctor deems necessary. The question is, why continue to go through this process when you are approving 99 percent of them in the first place? It’s just adding paperwork and delaying patient care. Reforms are needed.
And if there’s any doubt as to why going to these events in person are so vital, here’s an example of a random act of good fortune: At the Chairman’s Reception, which included sponsors (we were proud to be one), someone “messed up” the seating, and I found myself sitting with Sharon West, Vice President of Legal & Regulatory Affairs of the ACLA, and ARUP’s CMO and President, Tracy George. What strong and dynamic women for me to be seated between! They offered great insight into what was happening from their perspective, but also the conversation veered delightfully onto non-work topics. It was absolutely refreshing and good for the soul.
But Just One Per Lifetime, Please
I went into this meeting thinking everyone would be exhausted from the surge of work that COVID demanded from the lab industry, but instead the enthusiasm was palatable. Mike summed it up best: “The effort and energy suspended by our lab industry during this pandemic was acknowledged and celebrated; we would not be where we are today with falling case numbers and lifting mask mandates without it.”
… and here’s to it not happening again in this lifetime.