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Building Better Laboratory Experiences with Custom Digital Products

By Nick Epson on July 23, 2021

Over the years, businesses that require a laboratory setting for medical, precision manufacturing, scientific research, and other purposes tend to eventually come to rely on well-equipped, centralized locations to handle such operations. For example, businesses like Quest Diagnostics and Labcorp interface with a variety of businesses to provide services like clinical trials for medical research as well as more public-facing solutions like lab tests for Walgreens. Regardless of the specific role a lab plays, the common denominator is that they tend to handle complex, specialized operations for multiple businesses which means having great software is essential.

Building an excellent lab experience whether as part of a new endeavor or to enhance operations at an established organization means creating or integrating good software. Throughout the following, we’re going to look at a few businesses where a central lab plays a major role in their service model, call attention to a bad example, then discuss a handful of crucial elements that are essential to delivering a great experience through software.

A look at some popular businesses that rely on central labs and why they work so well

Whether your service provides a lab interfaces directly with a customer like DNA testing companies Ancestry and 23andMe or if you provide a centralized lab like Quest Diagnostics or Labcorp that mostly work with medical (and research) institutions to analyze patient data, your goals need to center on delivering the best possible experience to the customer at the end of the line.

Both the DNA testing companies we mentioned above provide solid models for companies that provide a direct-to-consumer lab service. Their services are both transparent and streamlined: each does quite well at communicating their process and value. In addition, they streamline the entire process from shipping their test kit to providing results in their user portal. Further, using their dashboards and other research tools is typically easy enough to use that folk like your grandpa (who sometimes makes Facebook posts of something he tried to Google) can easily poke through the Ancestry or 23andMe mobile and web apps.

They’ve done an excellent job of recognizing that their service appeals to people in virtually every demographic and as such, refined their service to be as accessible as possible. Quest and Labcorp, despite mostly interfacing directly with businesses that use their services on behalf of a patient or client, also provide portals for their clientele’s customers which is a key component of their success.

Efficiency and clarity of design aren’t just nice things to have, they’re literally the biggest reasons both organizations thrive. Having secure access to data (at will) is empowering for customers and simply more convenient for everyone – cleanly organizing data from a test means the user doesn’t have to rely on their doctors and staff don’t need to serve as a proxy to access this information and it makes it easy for the customer to share data with other entities when necessary.

Underlying complexity doesn’t need to be reflected in the UI and outdated designs like we see with StarLab aren’t just a bad look – what exactly happens in a lab setting might be a mystery to a lot of people, but being able to access presentable data shouldn’t be like solving a puzzle.

A checklist for building great lab software

We’ve touched on important factors like connectivity and convenience, but the devil is really in the details. The following components come together to play a major role in delivering a product that’s helpful to everyone it “touches,” so to speak.

Security and HIPAA compliance

Safety comes first with protected data like patient medical records and lab reports. As such, the architecture needs to be designed such that private data is sequestered from public view yet, easily accessible to authorized individuals. Here, authentication plays a key role in establishing user identity and keeping their data safe.

In the financial industry, there’s a framework called KYC (Know Your Customer) as part of AML (Anti-Money Laundering) efforts that is designed to connect services like a bank or investment account to a real person and further help ensure that only the owner or authorized users manage the account. Similarly, anything subject to HIPAA compliance mandates that organizations ‘know their patient’ to prevent data from going where it shouldn’t–which is why users should first be verified at the time of account creation.

One such way businesses do this is with a system called Checkr: it’s a powerful background check tool that can be used to link an account to an actual person. We vouch for this service as it’s something we’ve used to build certain digital products like the on-demand babysitting service, Hello Sitter. You can also use this service in conjunction with robust authentication systems like Sign in with Apple as well as many other secure login solutions. Further offering a frictionless two-factor authentication (2FA) mechanism will help users better secure their data.

Patient-facing portals

Even for internal or B2B labs that typically don’t correspond directly with customers, the patient portal is a crucial driver for success. As we mentioned earlier, it’s empowering – medicine in the US still moves so slowly that people die as a result and Canada has a similar issue as well. Even when a medical situation isn’t life or death, giving people access to and the ability to move data around on their own terms helps people feel a little of control in a system that’s often wrought with frustrations. While it might be a stretch to think of a patient portal as “life-saving,” it does help things move along and give peace of mind that information has flowed through the proper channels.

This helps take the burden off a medical practice’s hands and people tend to prefer this method as well as doing other things for themselves as well. If you take cues from the fact that some 70% of people reportedly prefer to book an appointment online, then you realize that you strive to make a user portal as engaging as possible.

Internal lab portals

Operations tend to be much more efficient when you develop a platform that’s friendly for lab workers from regular techs to scientists and engineers. As such, it’s important to think about the user experience (UX) when building interfaces for digital equipment and applicable software.

Established labs often find certain systems, equipment, or data have become “siloed” over the years. The ability to move data and use certain functions in a custom app can help labs speed up certain processes.

Just ask the tech who’s standing over an old ribbon printer waiting for page 7 to print from one system’s report, so he can plug data into another piece of software. He can order a custom pizza in moments with his smartphone, but at his so-called “sophisticated” place of work, he can’t easily move data from the internal reporting program to the software that’s used to make client-facing reports. Making this poor guy’s life easier will not only help improve profitability but also have downstream benefits to clients and patients.

Shipping and logistics

One thing that doesn’t seem to get enough attention in the realm of modern lab software is the timely transportation of certain materials. For example, a “central lab” might be comprised of several satellite locations that are in close proximity but not necessarily on the same campus, much less in walking distance.

Many dispersed labs that test samples with short shelf lives often rely on a network of transporters who are responsible for moving these things and other materials around. This process can be easily sped up by taking a queue from the likes of Uber, DoorDash, or other on-demand ridesharing or food delivery services.

You can reduce mishaps and expedite processes by supplying departments and drivers with features that allow them to connect in real-time to move everything from blood samples to other materials with a feature that works much like Uber. A department should be able to easily submit a request for material transport that will be quickly fielded by an available driver, just like you’d hail a Lyft after a night out on the town or like the Blue Label Labs-built app Tonquin does for automotive parts delivery.

Let’s build an awesome lab experience together

Every lab is unique, even among those that test or handle the same types of materials or specimens. We understand that to deliver the best possible product, we need to work together to uncover solutions then test with users and refine until polished. Here at Blue Label Labs, we start most of our projects with an insightful Design Sprint that sets the stage for an ongoing collaborative process.

By working together and applying insights we gain from research and testing, we’re able to deliver the kind of experience that delights your users. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our process or to discuss taking your idea to the next level.