With the CAP’s first-ever online election being held, 2009 is already a landmark year. But over the next few months, an even more significant enhancement will be launched through the CAP Web site’s e-Lab Solutions: online functionality for the Laboratory Accreditation Program.
The CAP’s project team, assisted by an outside consultant, will soon finish pilot-testing and roll out the new feature, which will give laboratories the ability to submit applications and reapplications online and update information throughout the accreditation cycle.
“Right now we have a small group of laboratories that are piloting the system so we can get additional customer feedback. Once the pilot is complete we’ll begin to launch the system to our remaining customers this summer,” says Bill Groskopf, director of operations for the Laboratory Accreditation Program.
“The process up to now has been pure paper. We send laboratories a big binder with all their existing information, and they go through and update it in writing, then send it back to us either by fax or regular mail,” Groskopf notes. A large group of laboratories surveyed in 2007 said they wanted to be able to update and view laboratory data online, he says.
With the current process, accredited laboratories could not get immediate access to the data the CAP had on file for them—their laboratories’ demographics, activity menu, and personnel forms, for instance. With the new system laboratories will have ongoing access to all of their data. Right now, “if a laboratory sends in a number of changes using a test menu change form, there’s no way for them to see all of their information,” Groskopf says. When the online functionality goes live, once the CAP staff has completed a review of the laboratory’s submitted data and updates the CAP’s internal systems, a laboratory will be able to see those changes reflected online. Labs will also have Web access to their own deficiency reports from current and previous inspections for the first time.
Greg Gagnon, MD, chair of the Inspection Process Committee and a member of the Council on Accreditation, says the feedback from surveys and focus groups is that people would like to do much more of their interacting with the Laboratory Accreditation Program online, “rather than doing all this faxing and copying and sending in big bundles of paperwork.”
“The idea of e-Lab Solutions is to begin putting all lab-specific data in one place, so the lab can consult it throughout the two-year accreditation cycle, not just during reapplication,” Dr. Gagnon says. “Online access allows for the administrators of the lab to make changes online and maintain an accurate activity menu pretty much throughout the cycle. The same can be done with any directorships, any CLIA-designated positions, or general or technical supervisors.” The new process should save a lot of time, but it will still be thorough, he says. “We won’t be diluting the inspection process.”
For now, the CAP will continue to send out a paper application. The laboratory will then have the option of completing and submitting the application online or using the paper forms. Labs that submit their application online will be able to save and print a copy of their submitted changes for their records.
Processing time at the CAP will not be faster for those who choose the online option, but mailing time will have been eliminated and, since a lab will be able to make changes online at any time, there could be fewer changes to make when the lab completes its application, Groskopf says.
Under the system, laboratories will be able to have multiple individuals signed on and updating information at the same time, a convenience that’s particularly important for labs with multiple section units/departments. “The system also recognizes when a person is in the midst of an update and will prevent two parties from trying to update the same data at the same time,” Groskopf says.
It’s designed, too, to recognize when specific data are required or missing. For example, during the application process, a lab is required to include a copy of its organizational chart. “If it’s not included,” Groskopf says, “the system will highlight for the user that it’s missing and require that it either be attached or that a comment be provided before submission.” This ensures that all required information is included in the application before it is submitted to the CAP.
R. Bruce Williams, MD, chair of the CAP Commission on Laboratory Accreditation, says one of his goals as chair was to offer more online services to CAP-accredited labs. “We really felt this was an area that would benefit our member laboratories, especially at time of reapplication. That’s because all of the electronic forms would be prepopulated and all they have to do is make updates online.”
For the future, the CAP is looking at all of the possibilities for online products and tools it can provide to laboratories. “We are definitely viewing this customer self-service offering as a beginning,” Groskopf says. “We want to move more and more to an online presence that uses electronic systems to make the processes seamless and as efficient as possible for laboratories.”
Anne Paxton is a writer in Seattle.