One of the biggest lessons business leaders have learned during the pandemic is that they should expect the unexpected and be prepared for almost anything. All that it takes to set any forward progress back to ground zero is a new variant, outbreak, or policy - all of which seem to surface when least expected. To be able to navigate the great COVID-19 unknown, businesses need a trusted and knowledgeable partner, and for business leaders in Idaho, that means partnering with Cole Diagnostics.
Up against the deadly Delta variant, the fast-spreading Omicron variant, and differing policies and protocols, the leadership at Cole Diagnostics has discovered that most Idaho businesses are overwhelmed and confused. Because of the fluid nature of what’s needed, recommended and required, many area businesses have more questions than answers. To get the answers they need, they’ve turned to Cole, an independent full-service medical laboratory that’s taking a proactive approach to employer testing mandates and requirements.
Helping to Clear Up the Confusion Around the OSHA Mandate
“There is a lot of confusion within the business community right now,” said Richard Hughes, Director of Laboratory Sales & Marketing at Cole Diagnostics. “Many think that vaccine-or-test policies are out because the Supreme Court recently blocked the federal mandate for large employers. This is true. However, the court also left it up to states and employers to decide if they will require employees to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to work.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently attempted to mandate that private companies with at least 100 employees enforce weekly COVID-19 testing and masking for unvaccinated workers as part of a push to encourage more vaccinations. Being immunized has proven to be an effective way to prevent severe illness from infection. Although the employer mandate was blocked by the Supreme Court on January 13, local and business-led vaccine-or-test requirements are still expected to impact millions of employees and lab industry experts anticipate testing to reach levels that haven’t been seen in months.
It’s Still a Good Time to Prepare
“Businesses should still develop a plan for potential testing programs,” added Hughes. “We have the staff, capacity, and technology needed to help. The biggest thing is educating our community, giving them some peace of mind, and letting them know that we're ready to partner with them on this.”
The greatest advantages Idaho businesses gain when partnering with Cole Diagnostics are experience and flexibility. To better serve the needs of its clients and partners the lab has invested in the technology needed to streamline and customize testing programs for employers based on their needs, the size of their company, and their location. This level of customization enables Cole to differentiate itself and stand out among its industry competitors.
“In many cases, we can utilize TestDirectly to help businesses manage their testing programs remotely,” explained Hughes. “All that an employee has to do is go to the portal and schedule an appointment, and then come to our lab to get tested. The employer is then able to access the employee’s test results via the portal, which makes compliance reporting much easier.”
TestDirectly is an easy-to-use direct-to-consumer web portal that allows Cole to directly connect with patients and employers to provide turn-key point-of-care testing solutions. The portal eliminates laboratory bottlenecks with automation that supports the collection and processing of specimens, the creation and delivery of reports, the management of both payment and compliance, and the monitoring and tracking of test results, all while also delivering a better patient experience.
Technology that Makes Compliance Easier
TestDirectly saves labs and their customer’s time and resources by removing paper forms and manual processes. It replaces both with end-to-end efficiencies that begin with patient self-registration and continue through to automated notification of the patient’s test result. The portal also provides employers with access control, allowing administrators to see results by the location, by the employee, or by any other attribute or variable. Additionally, the platform automatically delivers test results to public health departments and any other required stakeholders.
“Whether you’re a lab manager or an employer, operationalizing large-scale COVID-19 testing from the ground up is extremely difficult, not to mention a drain on financial resources,” said LigoLab CEO Suren Avunjian. “With TestDirectly, we offer a proven turn-key solution and a network of lab partners like Cole Diagnostics that have processed over 15 million COVID tests during the pandemic. Together, they can quickly become the centerpiece of any organizational testing program.”
Efficiency and agility will be key attributes as labs scale to meet increased workloads. They’ll need to add capacity without sacrificing turnaround times, and employers will need a cost-effective and integrated solution to help them track and manage the health status of their employees if they choose to move forward with serial testing for the unvaccinated. For its part, Cole Diagnostics is providing employers with as many options as possible to help them identify and implement a testing program tailored-made for their business.
With Cole Diagnostics, Employers Have Testing Options
In addition to in-lab and drive-through testing at its Garden City location, Cole Diagnostics is also offering onsite testing as an option for the business community.
“We're also setting ourselves up to be able to do pop-up, onsite testing,” added Eida DeLeon Siegel, Client Services Manager at Cole Diagnostics. “Onsite testing events would be ideal for employers with more than 50 employees who require testing for the unvaccinated. We can even use rapid antibody tests so that employers or shift supervisors will immediately know if someone is a risk for spreading COVID by entering the business.”
Cole Diagnostics is also preparing to adjust its operations to meet increased testing demand. The lab plans to scale capacity with more shifts, and because a COVID-19 surge will undoubtedly reduce some testing related to other non-emergency medical procedures, this will translate to even more capacity for COVID-19 testing without the need to hire additional staff.
“The current demand for PCR testing is around 800 to 1,000 tests per day,” explained Hughes. “To scale up from there, we would add around-the-clock shifts, which would put us into the range of 2,000 plus PCRs a day running individual testing.”
If demand exceeds those capabilities, the team at Cole Diagnostics also has the option to turn to pooled testing, where the lab would combine four or five samples into one tube. If the entire tube tests negative, all five patients are negative. If there’s a positive, the lab would run all five swabs individually on the next run. This is a useful option if the case positivity rate is low and there is a need to push capacity into the range of 5,000 daily cases.
What Type of COVID-19 Test is Best?
When it comes to advising employers on which type of COVID-19 test is best, Siegel explains that it’s really up to what the business prefers.
“Some employers may prefer PCR testing, whereas others may prefer rapid antigen testing,” she said. “We're prepared to offer both, depending on what the business is going to be requiring. The OSHA mandate didn’t have a specific requirement for which type, only that it had to be FDA approved or emergency use authorized.”
However, there is one caveat that the lab is educating people on.
“When it comes to the rapid antigen tests, a negative test result for a person that has symptoms has to be confirmed by PCR,” explained Hughes. “There is a possibility that there could be a false negative for an asymptomatic person because you're testing them a little bit sooner in their window of transmission. The most cost-effective way to get through a lot of people is to utilize the antigen tests, and then confirm any positive results with a PCR test.”
Cole Advises Regular COVID-19 Testing for All Businesses
When asked if they had advice for employers regarding testing programs, Hughes and Siegel agreed that, despite the struck-down mandate, all businesses should still test their employees, especially if the employees are interacting with customers.
An excellent example for Idaho businesses to follow is BMC, a building materials and construction company that serves customers at homes and construction sites regionally. Early last summer, company leadership realized they couldn't have their crews going out into the community without first testing them for COVID-19. The company turned to Cole Diagnostics to administer regular testing to ensure that employees weren’t walking into someone's house with the virus.
But what if every employee is already fully vaccinated?
“The truth of the matter is, employers still need to have vaccinated employees tested,” said Hughes. “Even vaccinated people are getting the virus. So to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the vulnerable in our community, it’s a good idea to have everyone tested regularly.”
Siegel said there is a possibility that employers could offer testing as part of an employee assistance program (EAP), which is an employee benefit program that assists employees with personal problems and/or work-related problems that may impact their job performance, health, and mental or emotional well-being. She suggested that employers consult with legal counsel to learn more about this option.
Cole Diagnostics Goes Above and Beyond for its Community
It’s important to note that Cole Diagnostics serves as a comprehensive, full reference laboratory specializing in pathology, cytology, molecular, microbiology, clinical chemistries, immunoassay, tissue staining, and more. The lab does roughly 80 percent of what any physician would want or need outside of genetic testing, gene sequencing, or something that would go to an esoteric lab. As such, the team is usually operating in the background. That changed when the pandemic became an American reality. That’s when they put themselves on the frontlines and started working tirelessly to help the community.
“The first year of the pandemic, we went around the clock and put ourselves out in the community to help,” added Hughes. “The team became forward-facing frontline responders during the pandemic. I am very proud of the team’s resilience and its dedication to each other, the company and the community. It was a challenging time, but we found a way to get it all done, and that’s how we’ll continue to operate.”
There’s no doubt that when businesses turn to Cole Diagnostics, the dedicated team of lab professionals will put the full force of its knowledge, dedication, and flexibility to work on their behalf.
LigoLab, recently recognized by Frost & Sullivan for Competitive Strategy Leadership in the North American Laboratory Information Systems Industry, is a leading provider of innovative end-to-end healthcare software for pathology laboratories, servicing 150+ facilities nationwide. As a comprehensive enterprise-grade solution, the LigoLab LIS & RCM Laboratory Operating Platform™ includes modules for anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, molecular diagnostics, revenue cycle management, and direct-to-consumer, all on one powerful and integrated platform that supports every role, every department, and every case. LigoLab empowers laboratories to better serve patients, differentiate themselves in the marketplace, scale their operations, become more compliant, and more profitable.