Stop the Flu Madness
As we approach the flu season there are lots of questions about influenza testing and horror stories about a looming epidemic or pandemic. Patients are flooding doctors' offices and emergency departments, and clinicians are demanding widescale testing; often unwarranted, but driven by patient demand or even hysteria.
Some emergency rooms have set up customized triage to route patients with influenza like symptoms to a special area so that they can be quickly seen and released. Most will be given common sense advice, released and simply told to stay home and treat their symptoms.Only in very rare cases are specific treatment or admission necessary.
Many state health departments have advised hospitals to adopt he protocol of not testing any outpatients for the flu and referring positive Flu A/B on inpatients to health department labs for epidemiological reasons only. What is your laboratory doing? What role did the lab play in developing institutional policies and protocols?
There are lots of questions about flu and flu vaccines. Some parts of the popular press have been recounting stories of the number of shots required and playing up the risks of Guillain Barre syndrome or even autism from taking the flu shots. There are even claims that the H1N1 vaccine has cancer cells.
The Joint Commission is encouraging healthcare workers to take the flu vaccine as a personal protection as well as acting in the interest of patient safety. One consideration for labs: do we have a plan for uninterrupted service if large numbers of staff come down with the flu?
As largely behind the scenes clinical professionals, laboratorians do not usually offer patient advice, but it behooves us to have the most credible information available. The CDC website is an excellent resource for the seasonal flu and H1N1.
There are also a few well researched, yet simply written articles in some magazines that can be used as references for the lay person. Whatever tools you use, it is appropriate and important to act as rational resource. That's a legitimate role in healthcare that we need to adopt more aggressively.