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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Why Can't We Have Nice Things?

Published April 6, 2011 6:43 PM by Glen McDaniel

This morning I accompanied a friend to the emergency room of a local hospital.  They were pretty busy so about 4 patients were being triaged together in a common area. Although there were privacy curtains, none was pulled so it was pretty easy to overhear conversations that should have been confidential. As a  former hospital COO, I was aghast at this breach.

It only got worse. A few minutes later a disheveled young lady with dangling ear-rings and long nails approached  a nearby patient and announced to the obviously scared young man, "I need to draw your blood." She did not identify herself by name or department.  She grabbed his wrist and checked his wristband.

She collected the usual rainbow: lavender, gold, green, blue and red top tubes. "All that blood! What are you testing for?" the teenage patient asked. Without making eye contact or breaking a smile she said "To find out what medicine will make you feel better." She packed her tray and left, dirty lab coat flapping in the wind.

She returned about 45 minutes later to collect blood from my friend. By then he had been moved to a private cubicle. She entered without greeting or positively identifying the patient. I noticed she already had gloves on.  Humming to herself she reached for his arm and took out her tourniquet.

 I could not control myself. I asked her to identify herself, asked her what tests were ordered (I already knew), requested she put on fresh gloves, and pointedly asked her the name of her laboratory director. She glowered at me "You a doctor?"

 "No, I am a patient advocate. I am also a clinical lab scientist and have done everything in a lab from drawing blood to testing, to being a laboratory director."  The significance of that was lost on her. Ignoring me she repeated her mantra to my friend. "We are running test (sic) to see what medicine will make you feel better."

I realize that this is probably an anomaly, simply an individual issue. But the fact she was so studied and confident, she was violating every common dress code (and the fact she did not adjust her actions after I spoke to her) all suggest this might be a systematic problem. What a poor representation of the lab. What must patients think?

Horrible experiences bring up odd memories. I had a friend in college whose mother always amused us because all her furniture was covered in plastic, she was obsessed with cleanliness  and she constantly asked her kids, "Why can't WE have nice things?"

Why can't we as a profession have nice things? One small thing we can do is to ensure those who represent the laboratory to the outside world (patients, doctors, nurses) dress appropriately and sound professional. They should be trained to represent themselves as phlebotomists or customer service reps (as appropriate) and not as "lab techs" or "the lab."  Vague generic nomenclature reinforces ignorance of our education, skill and importance. They should be proud of their role but also know their limits and their scope of practice. We do ourselves a disservice if we allow "the lab" to be represented in such a negative, amateurish and uncaring light.

I will be contacting the CEO of the hospital and the director of this lab tomorrow to share my observations and conclusions.


Ryan and Rhonda: Thanks for your comments. I am sure my horror was visible, but clearly lost on this phlebotomist. As for her "to see what medicine will make you feel better" mis-statement, that was almost embarassingly misleading.

Part of claiming our rightful role in healthcare is ensuring that those who represent us define our roles accurately and also admit their limits when appropriate. As I have said elsewhere, I am not a fan of "only the doctor knows, " but role-definition is also important. Clinical laboratorians, phlebotomists, pathologists, physicians all have different training, different areas of competences and a different scope of practice.

Glen Mcdaniel April 7, 2011 12:49 PM

I always get a kick out of asking individuals who draw my blood or anybody that I am accompanying to label the tubes in front of me.   Many give puzzled looks, some others actually do it before I get a chance to ask.

I love playing the part of undercover lab tech and watching from the other side of the labcoat.

Ryan April 6, 2011 8:55 PM

As shocking as that story is, unfortunately, it's not all the surprising.  Starting with the privacy issues, our system is currently spending millions an an overdue remodel of our emergency department to address exactly that problem.

The part that bothers me above all of the safety and identification problems (which are horrid) is the blanket statement of "to see what medicine will make you feel better".  What???  That is an atrocious thing to say to patients!  To imply that something can be so simply fixed is annoying.  They say a little education is a dangerous thing...  being so completely clueless is even more dangerous.

I understand that job duties can get repetitive, but that doesn't change the fact that patients are people, indivudual unique people, with very different attitudes, fears and health concerns.  As people in the healthcare profession we can't forget that, ever.

Kudos to you Glen for speaking up, too many people don't.  I hope you are able to convey your concern to the CEO and they are willing to listen with open ears.

Rhonda Daily, Microbiology - Medical Technologist, Affinity April 6, 2011 8:23 PM
Appleton WI

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