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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

There is a Great Need for More Useful MLS Research

Published March 29, 2014 5:45 PM by Glen McDaniel

I love science! I always have and I always will. So when I asked recently to be a judge at a science fair at a local college, I immediately jumped at the request.  I was really impressed with the quality of the projects and the soundness of the research, the hypotheses proposed, and the findings.


There were no MLS students, but  other healthcare professions were represented. I noticed that most of the cool toys were developed by the computer (IT), engineering and robotics students. I also took note that pre-pharmacy, dietetics  and nursing students  had quite a few papers and posters about the value of their profession to healthcare. Nursing especially had several research projects on nursing skills, nursing practice, expanding scope of practice, value of nursing diagnoses and ideal nurse-staffing standards. There were also several examples of joint student-faculty collaboration.


The goal is to have much of the research published in print and electronic journals. The students will receive not just academic credit but valuable exposure and the pride of adding to the body of knowledge of their respective professions. I thought that, given the quality of work I observed, there will be no scarcity of good data which will prove useful (and usable) for their respective professions.


A few years ago when I worked on a staffing taskforce for a national healthcare company, we had a tons on research on nurse-patient ratios, patient outcomes based on nursing skill mix and the like.  But we could find nothing except old CAP workload units and generic productivity data for the laboratory. Consequently, nursing staffing was increased based on lobbying and the use of published data, while staffing in several other areas including the laboratory was cut back. Instead across the company they were asked to cross train and work flex hours (including partial shifts) to reduce labor costs. Supervisors were expected to take on more bench work. 


We need more MLS research. I don’t mean just academic PhD-level type studies, but we need more useful (and usable) data on appropriate skills mix for the laboratory, the most effective MLS ratio to patient census or MLS/test volume ratios. We should be able to even correlate some outcomes (length of stay, discharge from ICU) to the volume and type of laboratory testing done.


This will not happen overnight. However, as I look at what other professions are doing I realize we do not have the same amount of direct, robust research available that would bolster our requests for adequate staffing or inclusion as vital members of the healthcare team. As a simple example: how do you measure productivity? How do you decide your benchmark? What evidence do you have that a particular benchmark is relevant?  


 Without specific targeted MLS-specific research we are likely to be considered “ancillaries” and allocated staffing and other resources based not on hard data, but on financial considerations, regardless of effect on patient care.



Would you email me directly and we could maybe toss some ideas around. In the meantime if any of the readers here have ideas for Joann, please share.

Glen McDaniel April 8, 2014 11:38 AM

Hi. I am currently "in between" a lot of things in life, including careers. A graphic designer for over 20 yrs, I went back to school to pursue my science and medicine interests. I am halfway through the MLT certification but do not forsee being able to finish (having moved to an area with crazy waiting list for entry). So, I have been pondering writing articles or something having to do with medicine.

Do you have any recommendations or suggestions where I might start. I am a good writer, organizer, etc. My BA is in Communications but I focused on pre-med before changing my major.

Thanks for your blog.


Joann Bellavia April 2, 2014 2:45 PM

We do see some research but it usually academic or as you said part of a PhD thesis. I am not saying we do not  need scientific research, we do. But most of the papers that are written are just useless. There is not much we can do with the information. They do not help us to improve our daily lives in the lab. Most times they dont help patients either.

Then many of the real heavy duty research having to do with diseases, tests, treatment, and new technology are done by doctors and professional researchers, not by MTs.

So lab folks are in the middle producing basically useless stuff. We dont do useful common sense research and we dont take part in scientific high impact research. We do things like (a PhD thesis I saw recently)  "incidence of anemia in a typical hospital population." That might be interesting. but if that is the best we can do we are not really helping anyone.

Lester P March 31, 2014 12:41 PM
Baltimore MD

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