We have all been in situations where we start our workday, and find the unexpected has happened, and that we cannot proceed as planned. Frustrating! From the viewpoint of a laboratory professional, this can include all those situations that prevent us from fulfilling our responsibilities to perform the testing ordered, and to report the test results in a timely manner.
These situations can include problems with:
- Instruments and Kits
- Quality Control / Reagents
- Inventory control ("what do you mean that we are out of test packs?")
- Personnel issues: sudden short staffing; performance errors; injuries on site.
- Ancillary system malfunctions such as refrigeration and incubation failures
- Computer / Laboratory Information Systems down
- Utilities out; leaky plumbing in the work area......anything!
The bottom line is that when these occur, the laboratory cannot deliver what is expected.
How do you handle this? After all, patient care is on the line; physicians are expecting test results in a timely manner; and there may be Stats among these orders. Without a plan, the credibility of the laboratory is at stake.
Whether the service interruption is a temporary delay measured in hours, or one that lasts for several days (or longer), the laboratory must have plans in place for dealing with service interruptions. These should include:
- Protocol for contacting the ordering physicians as soon as you know there will be a significant delay;
- Procedure for accurately informing the rest of the laboratory staff what has happened; so if they receive calls about the delayed work, they will have an informed response.
- Procedure to inform other departments in the facility if their work will be affected by these delays.
- Procedures for when and which specimens are to be retained or sent out for testing, depending on the length of the delay; and which laboratories to use for referred testing.
- Procedures for reporting test results if it is the information system that is not operating.
- Protocol for delays longer than one day.
Effectively planning for these situations, (as much as one can) will go a long way toward reducing stress for the staff, allowing them to focus on the tasks at hand; ensure proper communication to your clients, and preserve the credibility of the laboratory for its professionalism and quality.