Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) changed the dynamics of health care delivery, shifting patient priorities and deferring care perceived as less urgent. Delayed or eliminated care may place patients at risk for adverse outcomes.
To identify opportunities for laboratory test stewardship to close potential gaps in care created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study was a retrospective time series design examining laboratory services received before and during the COVID-19 pandemic at a large metropolitan health system serving women and children.
Laboratory test volumes displayed 3 distinct patterns: (1) a decrease during state lockdown, followed by near-complete or complete recovery; (2) no change; and (3) a persistent decrease. Tests that diagnose or monitor chronic illness recovered only partially. For example, hemoglobin A1c initially declined 80% (from 2232 for April 2019 to 452 for April 2020), and there was a sustained 16% drop (28-day daily average 117 at August 30, 2019, to 98 at August 30, 2020) 4 months later. Blood lead dropped 39% (from 2158 for April 2019 to 1314 for April 2020) and remained 23% lower after 4 months.
The pandemic has taken a toll on patients, practitioners, and health systems. Laboratory professionals have access to data that can provide insight into clinical practice and identify pandemic-related gaps in care. During the pandemic, the biggest patient threat is underuse, particularly among tests to manage chronic diseases and for traditionally underserved communities and people of color. A laboratory stewardship program, focused on peri-pandemic care, positions pathologists and other laboratory professionals as health care leaders with a commitment to appropriate, equitable, and efficient care.