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Lab reforms unveiled in BC


Victoria, BC July 14, 2003 The British Columbia government says it is launching a new provincial laboratory co-ordinating office as part of an effort to renew lab service delivery and ensure better co-ordination of lab test results for patients.

Health Services Minister Colin Hansen says the new approach will build on the strengths of public and private sector lab service providers and will be led by the new co-ordinating office to work with health stakeholders through the transition period to ensure patient access and ensure high-quality lab service delivery.

"Our current approach to lab services is fragmented, with many labs working in isolation," he says.

He adds that the problem has been heightened by the lack of a common lab information system connecting all of BC’s health providers. Currently, up to 27 different lab information systems are in operation and many are incompatible.

During the next two years, the province says it plans to spend around $35 million on developing an information system that will be available to all providers. It also plans to invest in quality improvement and lab utilization management tools and activities, teaching and lab research, and provincial human resource planning and training that will assist the province in addressing the looming national shortage of lab professionals anticipated over the coming decade.

The government says BC currently has the highest use of lab service of any Canadian province, with total lab expenditures now reaching nearly $500 million a year and growing by 35% during the past five years. As a result of the greater efficiency and integration these reforms will provide, the new approach will help contain rising laboratory costs, protecting approximately $70 million in health resources during the next two years which the government says will be reinvested in other patient priorities.

"As a hospital-based laboratory physician, my primary concern is improving patient care through a more accountable and sustainable approach to lab medicine,” says Dr Jim Cullen, medical director, department of pathology and laboratory medicine at Vancouver General Hospital. “While the patients of BC have been well-served by existing lab services, many studies have pointed to the need for improvement. We are very pleased the current government has the courage to move forward and address these long-standing issues for the benefit of BC patients.”

Hansen says the province will also integrate two separate funding sources for lab services to a single funding stream through the Ministry of Health Services. Currently, health authorities manage funding for lab services in hospitals, while outpatient lab services are billed through the Medical Service Plan.

Hansen says at least four major reviews during the past 10 years in the province have concluded reforms are necessary, but no action has been taken to date. BC remains the only province west of Quebec that has yet to implement changes in its approach to lab service delivery.