Avoiding LIS Disruptions: Applying Lessons Learned from Southwest Airlines

  • Associate Account Executive, Laboratory Information System, XiFin, Inc.

This blog expands on the impact related to a recent blog, "What Can Medical Providers Learn from the Southwest Airlines Fiasco." If you missed that blog, we encourage you to read it. 

In healthcare, especially laboratory testing, a significant percentage of medical decisions are based on test results. Laboratory test results influence approximately 70% of medical decisions that are made by healthcare providers, including diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing management of patient care. This underscores the significant role that testing plays in healthcare and highlights the need for labs to maintain their laboratory information systems (LIS).

In recent years, many businesses have been impacted by supply chain issues, staffing shortages, rising staff costs, system failures, and some even experienced cyber-attacks. Being in such a critical space in the healthcare ecosystem, laboratories must keep their systems up to date and have plans in place to navigate such disruptions. An outdated LIS and a lack of planning can lead to labs quickly finding themselves in a dire position.

As discussed in our previous blog, the Southwest Airlines operational meltdown holds compelling (and chilling) parallels within healthcare. In January, Southwest Airlines reported that the disruptions that led to more than 16,700 canceled flights in December 2022 would cost the company $825 million.  

While Southwest officially blames weather and staff shortages for the cancellations, employees and insiders point to the airline's outdated software as the primary culprit of the delayed recovery. Now, months later, Southwest continues to be in the news as the company faces a shareholder class-action suit, and travelers, employees, investors, and even the Depart of Transportation, continue to question why the cancellations occurred and if they could have been avoided.     

Michael Santoro, vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SAPA) for flight routing and staffing, stated "Our internal software can't handle massive cancellations. The company hasn't invested the money into scheduling infrastructure to support the network." He added that throwing human capital at the problem does not work. "The company's failed solution? Hire more….We aren't undermanned….Even with the correct number of pilots on any given day, the house of cards falls, and fall it does with ever-increasing frequency and severity." 

If your laboratory is operating on an outdated LIS, could it survive an event like this, in which an unexpected event triggered a cascade of problems that were compounded by outdated software and ultimately drove business to a standstill? Having a true SaaS-based LIS is an investment that is critical for the future of your laboratory. 

What can healthcare providers learn from this painful lesson? 

We often hear from diagnostic providers that they are aware of inefficiencies in their existing software systems, such as their LIS, but are still deciding whether to commit the resources to augment or upgrade their current technology infrastructure. 

A 2022 survey conducted by XiFin illustrated similar trends: 

  • Only 34% of respondents felt their LIS systems are highly reliable 
  • 50% of respondents stated their LIS lacks a robust analytic solution (20% indicated that their LIS does not offer a robust analytics solution, and 30% stated they were unsure if it did) 
  • Only a third of the respondents felt their LIS integrates well with other systems 
  • 37% reported their LIS has a cap to its scalability, 12% indicated their LIS does not keep up with their growth well, and 4% stated their LIS does not scale well 

Without augmenting or upgrading critical technology infrastructure, such as an LIS, organizations may be sacrificing in critical areas, including:

Management Reporting and Analytics 

Management reporting is critical for laboratories. These reports provide information on all aspects of the lab; daily volumes, incoming volumes, turnaround times (TAT), discrepancies, potential expected revenues, authorizations, user information, lab tech and pathologist workloads, etc. They are used daily to understand the health of the lab and to plan for the future. If an unforeseen event occurs, these reports become an essential part of the mitigating risk and moving toward resolution.

Configurability and Scalability 

Having an LIS that is highly configurable can lead to a more efficient lab. Increased integration and connectivity will decrease errors and increase productivity. Being able to quickly scale for testing influxes or pandemics has proven to be a necessity for laboratories.  


Information security is incredibly important for labs. Protected health information (PHI) is often viewed as more valuable to cyber criminals than credit card data. While credit cards are monitored frequently and can be quickly canceled, PHI has a longer shelf life, can be used in multiple ways, and breaches can often take longer to detect. Security is not just about protecting data from cyber attacks but also from unauthorized internal access, which impacts compliance. What level of security does your LIS offer to protect against data breaches? 

Operational Efficiency 

With current resource, supply, and pricing challenges impacting laboratories, operational and financial efficiency is a top priority. Optimizing and automating workflow and managing all testing volume levels on a daily basis is just one piece of the puzzle. Laboratories need their LIS to be current and capable of managing all their data and resources and be able to provide automated operational management reports that to help proactively identify potential areas of time- and cost savings and areas for further efficiency or growth opportunities. 

A laboratory information system (LIS) is critical to any lab’s workflow and data management strategy. Often referred to as the “heart of the laboratory,” the data flowing within is the blood pumping through it. Delaying investments in the systems and technologies that drive the lifeblood of an organization creates real risk, as experienced firsthand by Southwest Airlines. Now is the time to evaluate how well-equipped your laboratory technology is to meet the needs of your current business and your future growth plans. 

The XIFIN LIS Quick Reference Guide shares six key areas to consider when discussing your future growth plans for your laboratory and LIS needs.

Learn More

Published by XiFin
Share This Post:

Sign Up for Blog Alerts

Search Blog Posts

Blog Posts By Date

Blog Posts By Tag