Healthcare providers order genetic testing from Athena Diagnostics for a number of reasons. It might be to confirm a suspected clinical diagnosis, help determine treatment options, or identify familial inheritance risk, among other reasons. Whatever the reason, the turnaround time (the time it takes to complete the test) is critical.
Karthik Kuppusamy, PhD, the General Manager for Neurology, said, “This is what we mean by ‘responsible genomics’. We have made significant strides in technology, operational efficiencies, variant analysis, and process improvements to deliver on our promise of better patient care by delivering 50% faster turnaround times for all genetic tests.”
Operational Efficiency and New Technology Speed up Turnaround Times
The lab at Athena Diagnostics has undergone tremendous transformation over the past year. As part of our commitment to being a leader in responsible genomics, more than 90% of our genetic test offering has been converted to next-generation sequencing, and multi-gene profiles have been reconfigured to align with published practice parameters as well as internal studies based on clinical features, family history, and gene prevalence. This makes it easier to order, avoids ordering unnecessary testing, and reduces overall cost. This has also resulted in drastic operational efficiencies which have brought turnaround times for all genetic testing platforms down by 50%.
Here’s the breakdown:
Next-generation sequencing: 21-28 days
Sanger sequencing: 14-28 days
Non-sequencing PCR and Southern blot: 14-28 days
“Over the past four months, we’ve been meeting or exceeding these turnaround times, so I am confident that we can now publish the faster turnaround times,” says Kellie Johnson, Athena Diagnostics Director of Operations.
The lab is serious about customer satisfaction. The Customer Services Management Team (CSMT) meets every morning to discuss operational goals and customer satisfaction, including turnaround time. The CSMT reported 100% of all tests meeting or exceeding their published turnaround times as of late June 2015. “We began exceeding our ‘aspirational’ turnaround time goals, and we’ve consistently maintained that level of service,” Johnson explained.
The advancements made in NGS have led to efficiencies in Sanger sequencing. The total number of samples performed by Sanger has dropped, replaced with the newer NGS technology, and the lab has made other operational improvements. The new processes and structure in the lab are scalable. Johnson says that they can handle increased volume without concern.
Athena Insight Variant Investigation
Even the Athena Insight variant investigation process is included in the new turnaround times. Athena Insight is a team of dedicated scientists who thoroughly investigate variants of unknown clinical significance (VUS). The team will “score” a VUS on a 7-point scale; indicating if it’s more likely to be pathogenic or benign. This gives the healthcare provider and patient more information when a VUS is identified. Further familial testing is often requested (and performed at no charge) to help interpret a VUS finding.
Athena has also implemented the Quest Operating Model (QOM), an internal process improvement program designed to identify and adjust inefficient work flows or process hiccups. The implementation of this model and culture transformation played a role in reducing turnaround time, finding efficiencies in the Athena Insight process, and creating more visibility into the lab to allow for these positive changes to take place.
Medical Director Comments
“Turnaround time is important for efficient, timely patient management,” says Joseph J. Higgins, MD, FAAN, the Medical Director for Neurology at Quest Diagnostics and the Lab Director at the Athena Laboratory. “Finding the right diagnosis and treatment is important and challenging in disorders like epilepsy and autoimmune neurological disorders. A definitive diagnosis can help ease uncertainty at a tremendously stressful time,” explains Dr. Higgins.