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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Improving Communication for Better Patient Care

Published December 11, 2011 3:13 PM by Glen McDaniel

Communication is a key skill to everyone working in healthcare.  In no other profession is it more important clearly express what you mean, since there is no room for confusion or ambiguity. Errors occur not simply from incorrect information; they also arise from lack of complete information or clarity.  

Better patient care includes the sharing of information among all those who care for a patient. In fact the  Joint Commission has several requirements related to communications and against which it judges healthcare organizations.  In fact one requirement related to reporting critical values in a timely manner is a National Patient Safety Goal (NPSG 2) The overall goal is to ensure continuity and completeness of care, to ensure the safe delivery of care to every patient no matter how many caregivers are involved.

Consider a diabetic patient for whom a critically high glucose level does not get communicated. What if the patient is on an insulin drip to reduce glucose, but subsequent levels are not performed or not communicated to a decision maker? This could result in an adverse outcome for a patient.  In fact there was a report in the news recently in which serial point of care (POC) glucose  tests  on on a patient were not effectively communicated causing the patient to receive massive doses of insulin resulting in hypoglycemia and death.

Does your lab have a mechanism for sharing information among departments (inside and outside the lab) and between shifts?  Has your lab assigned responsibility for monitoring TAT and critical result notification? What do you personally do to ensure vital information does not fall through the cracks of our very busy lives?

These are more than academic or rhetorical questions. Your patients would like to know the answers.


Communication is really the key in everything. If we dont communicate then nothing works. I am dismayed and totally in shock about that Allentown hospital incident. I hope people lost their jobs behind that. That is absolutely unbelievable. In my hospital we have a protocol that says if there is a critical value or a huge discrepancy in POC glucose results then a specimen must be drawn from the arm and sent to the lab. But I guess in this case they still would not have discovered the error because they did not communicate with each other.

leonora December 11, 2011 7:35 PM
Philadelphia PA

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