April 2016

In spite of an unusually mild winter that saw trees budding and tulips breaking ground in February, the cool weather seems to be poised to hang on for just a bit longer. Looking past overnight lows that dip below zero and the occasional call for snow flurries, however, we are now officially into Spring and with the change of seasons comes a certain excitement and optimism for the future.

For us here at the LHIN, April marks the beginning of a new fiscal year and like many in the health system, we were paying close attention as the 2016 Ontario Budget was released. Among the many positives to come from the budget, which included an additional billion dollars for health care, was $345M in new funding for hospitals, which represents the first increase in base funding in four years. This investment is welcome news for our hospital partners who have been working hard to streamline their operations and better integrate services in an effort to ease the pressures associated with the rising cost of delivering care.

While there has been much debate the past few years among the public, providers and politicians about how best to overcome the challenges facing our health system, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that money alone is not the solution. It is no secret that the tight financial circumstances faced by hospital leadership have posed a serious challenge, but they have also in many ways been a catalyst for innovation and system improvement.

With National Medical Laboratory Week coming up later this month, I felt it appropriate to focus on the work being done by CoLabs, HNHB’s regional network of hospital-based medical laboratories. CoLabs, which was also the feature of our latest Voices in the Community video, is a fantastic example of how the integration of services within our regional health system is improving efficiency and delivering better care to patients.

The CoLabs network encompasses all nine hospital corporations within our LHIN and includes over 1,300 employees located across 17 individual hospital sites who each year perform approximately 13 Million laboratory tests. These tests, which range from identifying the type of bacteria causing an infection to detection of DNA markers for genetic diseases, are integral to the treatment decisions made by medical staff and affect nearly every patient seen in our hospitals.

Though the laboratory medicine programs at each site operate independently and staff are employed by the hospitals themselves, they have a long history of working collaboratively with one another and exchanging ideas and best practices. In 2014, under the guidance of the LHIN Laboratory Council, the network set out to formalize this partnership and further integrate lab services with a vision to be internationally recognized for excellence in innovation, quality and value delivered to patients. Working together and pooling resources, has enabled the network to:
  • Develop a Regional Microbiology and single Quality Program
  • Leverage combined volumes when approaching vendors and negotiating contracts
  • Standardize processes and procedures
  • Implement new equipment and technologies in a coordinated fashion 
One specific CoLabs initiative that has made a significant difference has been the recent acquisition of new hematology analyzers at hospitals sites across the LHIN. The new technology, which performs blood cell counts and can identify abnormal cell types, was first introduced at Niagara Health System (NHS), who then supported the roll-out across the other hospital sites. In utilizing a common platform and processes to analyze blood results, the teams at each site have been able to benefit from one another’s expertise and establish standard practices that deliver comparable results across the various institutions.

At NHS, the optimized processes combined with the increased efficiency of the news analyzers now means the lab is able to get blood test results back to the medical teams in about half the time it was taking before. The faster availability of results is being noticed by patients, particularly by those being treated for cancer who must have their blood counts done before every chemotherapy session. Shorter turnaround times have translated to less time spent in waiting rooms and enabled these patients to get into their appointments and back home more quickly. 

For more information about CoLabs, CLICK HERE.

To learn more about the new investments in health care included in the 2016 Ontario Budget, CLICK HERE.

If you or your organization would like to be featured in a future blog or share a patient story in one of our Voices in the Community videos you can reach us through our office, or if you’re on social media via our Twitter handle - @HNHB_LHINgage. Your feedback and questions are always welcome.