goes without saying that we live in the world of social media. I am not ashamed
to say (maybe I should be) that this not-so-young guy spends way too much time
online. Among friends of my generation, I am the go-to guru for interpretation
of social media terms and recommendation for the latest technology or app. I get lots
of news on social media. In fact my Twitter feed often beats the national networks
to broadcasting some event of national or international significance.
it is because of this wide exposure afforded by social media that many
organizations now have a Social Media policy. Such a policy generally addresses not just the access of social media at work and using company computers, but
also spells out what can be posted and what is prohibited.
organization wants to be portrayed negatively by a current employee. That is why certain posts can result in immediate termination. However, healthcare
organizations have a unique concern: that of privacy and security.
employers say posting pictures, patient-identifiable information are all
prohibited. Generally healthcare organizations are very prescriptive with their
policies directed at employees and even non-employee physicians.
of this comes as news, I am sure.
organizations often use social media to advertise or post positive news about themselves, should
they require employees to do the same? Should an organization “strongly suggest” that their employees post
at least one feel-good post per week reflecting positively on the organization?
What about requiring employees to “reach out to friends on social media to
raise X dollars” as part of a fund-raising campaign?
encountered a couple of those “requirements” recently and though the requirement odd at
best. What do you think? Does your employer require or strongly encourage you
to post on their behalf?
It’s time of year again we celebrate and
acknowledge Medical Laboratory professionals (technicians, scientists,
specialists, pathologists and others).
American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) website has a very
concise history of
this celebration which, like the profession it highlights, has experienced many
changes. It was started in 1975 as National Medical Laboratory Week under the
auspices of American Society for Medical Technology (ASMT) which later became ASCLS.
the years several other laboratory organizations signed on as co-sponsors. For example, this year there are 14 organizations cooperating in the effort to salute the nation’s estimated 300, 000
2005 advocates from ASCLS spearheaded a change to rename it NMLP Week, with the “P”
standing for Professionals. This was a deliberate attempt to emphasize that the celebration was for actual, real,
live, talented, educated, hard-working professionals
and not simply a room (the lab). This change
was small but significant and evocative.
year a group of professionals selected a
catchy slogan as that year’s theme; often a catch double entendre. In 2010 it was
decided to brand the celebration with a permanent recurrent theme, “Laboratory
Professionals Get Results.”
in 2012, the word “national” was dropped from the name to make the title less
unwieldy. So here we are many years later celebrating the latest iteration: MLPW.
has changed over these 40 years. We have seen regulatory changes, emergence of disruptive
technology, nanotechnology and healthcare reform. But one thing has not
changed: the skill, knowledge, competence and dedication of a cadre of medical
laboratory professionals who work diligently, often behind the scenes, to
advance the health of this nation.
all my colleagues, I say: take a bow. You deserve it. Happy MLPW!
recent College of American Pathologists (CAP) Q-Probe investigated the level of
physician satisfaction with what the laboratory has to offer. I always find
satisfaction surveys instructive and this one was no exception.
Q-Probe is certainly not the first of its kind or scope, but is the latest. The study’s authors
Shannon McCall, MD and Larry Massic, MD
had a sample size of 2425
physicians from 81 institutions and asked 16 laboratory-service related questions.
overall satisfaction was 4.2 on a scale of 1 to 5 (this compares to a 2007 study in
which the score was 4.1)
-Physicians were most satisfied with quality of results,
test menu and staff courtesy. They were least satisfied with turnaround time
(TAT) for STATS (inpatients and outpatients), and esoteric tests.
in terms of what providers considered important to them, clinical report format
scored fairly high as a service category
69 percent of respondents were satisfied
with the ease of use of electronic order entry. This was a surprise; as ubiquitous as that function
is these days.
percent of physicians said they would recommend their laboratory to another physician.
are some of the takeaways?
are confused by the increasing amounts of data they must process and find it harder to extract
what’s significant and actionable.
in smaller hospitals tend to be more satisfied with laboratory service than those in larger settings. The
study authors theorize that this difference might be due to closer, more frequent
interaction between providers and the laboratory staff in smaller facilities
despite some degree of frustration on both sides, physicians are basically
satisfied with the lab, but would welcome greater interaction and “help” in
several areas including selecting and interpreting lab results
time rates low on satisfaction because it rates so high on the “importance”
scale. So whatever we can do to reduce TAT is welcome and is translated in a
physician’s mind to “better service.” We
could also do a better job of
educating doctors as to what is included in getting a test from order entry to result.
They do not necessarily understand all the steps involved, or the differences
for different tests. Again, that is where communication comes in.
McCall gives the following advice, “Pay more attention to order selection and
entry, as well as the method and frequency of communication of results in the post
analytical phase. Then maybe we will see an improvement in physician satisfaction.”
This is just the latest in a growing number of studies where doctors say what they need from the lab. It is not coincidental that "help" and "communication" are repetitive themes. To me, this represents a real opportunity for laboratorians to expand their scope, boost satisfaction and contribute to enhanced patient care ; all at the same time.
This is the time of
year when the major medical laboratory organizations hold their national meetings.
These gatherings are a great opportunity for laboratorians to get together with
their professional colleagues from around the country and also to listen to
major players in the profession and on the cutting edge of science.
The advantages of national face to face
meetings are undisputed: to learn new information, exchange information with
each other, to network and to interact socially. Many meetings are held in
interesting cities, so attendees also take advantage of what the host city has
to offer; with many partying or getting much-needed rest and relaxation. Some even take this opportunity to have a
family vacation. Most meetings have a vendor exhibit or exposition (ranging from
modest to gargantuan) of some sort associated with the meeting. This offers a unique opportunity to talk to
vendors, to see and touch advanced technology.
thing is, it has become more and more difficult for the average bench MLS/MLT
to attend national meetings. Most organizations do not offer financial sponsorship
for meetings and, increasingly, laboratorians have to use their own money and often
utilize vacation time or PTO. What’s a laboratorian to do?
highly structured meetings are important for the reasons above, the reality is
that organizations must offer alternatives for those laboratorians who cannot reasonably
attend a meeting in person.
Communication technology has advanced to a great degree to offer several
where an individual could pay to “attend” one or more presentations
streaming of presentations and vendor exhibits
of CDs after the meeting
to a password-protected website for audio and visual presentations
of social media like Twitter and Facebook for some presentations where individuals
can participate and ask questions in real time from wherever they are
presentations of keynote addresses and high-interest topics
of technology available on smart phones like the recently launched Meerkat application
CEUs as appropriate for participation through these virtual means
of these options can be monetized ( I hate that term) of course. It is possible
to charge so that laboratorians would pay a sort of “fee for service” cost. These
charges would defray costs for the organization or, more likely, be a nice
source of revenue for the presenting organizations. Even if the cost was higher than the meeting
registration fee, it would still be a cost savings because the individual would
not have to pay for travel, meals away from home, hotel etc. and the other typical go-to-meeting expenses.
every organization has the wherewithal to offer all these services out of the gate,
but it would be nice to see an incremental move in that direction.
Vendors have a vested interest to subsidize some of the
cost, by the way. Here is a likely scenario: Vendor A allows a virtual tour of their expo booth,
ability to have a Q&A online and then allow the viewer to see one
presentation for free (could be a big keynote or a scientific session). The vendor bears all the cost. I can even see a situation where the exhibits
are less gigantic, with some of the savings being used to facilitate virtual
attendance and participation.
to face meetings are hard to beat and will not go away any time soon. However,
the reality is that they are inconvenient and expensive to attend. Luckily technology
offers many convenient, affordable alternatives. It is time to take advantage
of this technology. I know many meetings
sell CDs, I know some offer some CEUs after the fact, but I am suggesting
something much more comprehensive, bold and overarching. .
technology is there and the laboratorians are there. It’s time to bring them together.
disease is one of the most significant chronic ailments affecting Americans. Renal
disease is often a sequela of one of several maladies that plague Americans:
diabetes, hypertension, glomerulonephritis, autoimmune disease, polycystic
kidney disease and others.
estimated 20 million Americans have chronic kidney disease (CKD) some managed by
diet, exercise and medication alone, while others need regular dialysis.
of life can be adversely affected and impacted by kidney disease.
laboratory plays a crucial role in the diagnosis and treatment of renal
disease. One of the ongoing challenges for providers is the variation in tests
performed by different laboratories on different platforms using different
reagents. There have been several
attempts to create harmonization to standardize results and make it easier to
interpret results from various labs and even from visit to visit.
late 2012 some guidelines called the Kidney Disease Improving Global Outcomes
(KDIGO) Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Evaluation and Management of CKD
guidelines were developed through the collaboration of many international experts
and build significantly on lessons learned from previous guidelines. One very important
aspect of this guideline is that it contains strong recommendations for
laboratory input and involvement in the process of care. It only makes sense
that the experts who provide the information used in decision making should
understand the recommended best practices and the rationale for such practices.
surprisingly, laboratory involvement will require a more active participation,
rather than the typical passive behind the scenes “just do what the doctor orders”
the “Key Factors for Laboratorians” required by the 2012 KDIGO Guideline are the
good communication between laboratory professionals and relevant clinicians,
such as nephrologists and primary care doctors.
for common laboratory practices in a region so patients receive the same care
with comparable results from visit to visit, regardless of location where the testing is performed.
creatinine results are aligned to an isotope dilution mass spectrometry
an appropriate glomerular filtration Rate (GFR) formula for your population.
should use the same units, number of significant figures and clinical decision
points for both serum creatinine and eGFR reporting.
should understand, and provide information on, their creatinine method, including
any limitations and interpretation
should provide measurements of urine albumin and urine creatinine using traceable
assays. These tests might be part of a periodic monitoring protocol in a high-risk
population such as known diabetics.
should provide Albumin/Creatinine ratio (ACR) and do so in a clear, consistent
manner to help clinicians make correct decisions regarding declining renal
function in any one patient from site to site and visit to visit.
of these recommendations make good sense and offer yet another chance for the laboratory
to be an active participant in patient care. This involvement should provide
job enrichment as the laboratorian assumes a greater proactive and professional role. However,
these are recommendations, not mandates.
If laboratorians are hesitant and acquiescent then
another player will step forward. Then once again, someone outside the laboratory, perhaps
with limited knowledge of MLS, will direct “the lab” on what to do. It’s our
I was speaking to a group of laboratorians
including a pathologist, and the conversation turned to laboratory inspections.
At first everyone was on the same page: inspections are a necessary evil in the
sense that it is important to have some neutral measure of quality, but the
inspections could be very stressful.
person recounted horror stories of overly-picky inspectors or citations that
were just arbitrary or inexplicable as far as they were concerned. The
pathologist was very adamant that medical directors should be exempt from such scrutiny.
One older scientist told the group stories of lowered practice or low-quality
practices being adopted at the urging of medical directors who in fact had the
real power in the lab. The pathologist insisted, quite rightly, that such occurrences
were probably few and far between.
then asked the group should inspectors be practicing peers drawn from sister-
laboratories or should they be professional inspectors employed by the agency
or the state. I have witnessed both practices-Joint
Commission , State, CLIA and COLA professional inspectors on the one hand, and CAP peer-inspectors on the
group was about evenly split. The pathologist liked the idea of peer
pathologists (doctor to doctor). A couple of scientists insisted it takes someone in current practice
to be knowledgeable and realistic enough
to “judge” their colleagues. They suggested professional inspectors were often
retired individuals “ who had not seen the inside of a real lab in years-
except during inspections” They might not understand current medical laboratory
practice and their expectations were often unrealistic, for example.
the younger members of the group unanimously thought it would be better to have
only professional inspectors instead of peers who only volunteered from time to
time. Why? They thought professional inspectors would be better trained, more current on
the standards and would adhere to interpretation of standards in a more objective way.
Peer-scientists tend to be more subjective and tend to “judge” laboratories
more in comparison to their own experiences. In short, they were more rigid and
there was more variation among visits and among inspectors, they thought. Interesting.
guess there are advantages to both models. But since most laboratories are
CAP-accredited, using volunteer peer-laboratorians it seems, the issue is of more than academic interest. Do you
prefer being inspected by a team of practicing scientists who are just taking time
off from their own labs, or would you prefer a team of professional full-time
inspectors, who do nothing but laboratory inspections?
would be interested in hearing your opinions.
mantra of most laboratorians is, “We get no respect.” The wrenching truth about
that is that it is a self-fulfilling prophesy. We provide the majority of
empirical data used to make clinical decisions, we are among the most educated
of healthcare professionals. Yet the truth is we are under-recognized and often
underpaid, as compared to our healthcare colleagues.
am not sure what medical laboratory education is like these days, but when I was
in school, our studies were heavily scientific. We studied the biochemistry of
human functions, the anatomy of the body and a good deal of time was spent “diagnosing”
based on laboratory data.
we graduated, interned in an actual medical lab and found that our knowledge and
critical thinking skills were grossly underutilized. To make it worse, burnt-out laboratorians
slapped us down (figuratively) whenever we dared to be audacious enough to
think we could offer an opinion.
have written several blogs discussing research that indicates that what
physicians want from the lab is accurate, timely results. In fact, they are lost without that. That’s a given. But they
also want consultation. They want help selecting and interpreting tests. When
they call they want to speak to a professional laboratorian to have their
questions answered, someone who will help them solve their dilemma. Plus they want
to do this without too much trouble. In one CDC survey, doctors
said they often just hung up as they were transferred from person to person
when all they wanted was something as simple as what swab to use and why one
specimen was acceptable and another not. They wanted “why” not some snide
comment like “that’s just what we use” or to be told “ask the pathologist” for just about every technical or clinical query.
call the “no respect” prediction self-fulfilling because as we get disillusioned and shut down
or don’t bother to keep up with clinical and technological advances, physicians
and nurses trust us less and assume they know more than we do. Even about OUR body of knowledge and our scope
written about the lab often reflect the same dumbed down narrative of who we
are and what we do. A few days ago, I was very heartened to read an article in US
News and World report that talks about the value of the laboratory and the fact
that, despite our pivotal role, we still operate largely behind the scenes.
The article accurately describes the roles of laboratorians, even using the correct title
of medical laboratory scientist, and walks the reader through some common
scenarios in which the laboratory’s actions make a difference in diagnosis and
author of that article, Lisa Esposito is an RN by training and in an email to
me she reminisced on how, as a nurse, she often waited anxiously for critical lab results or blood for a transfusion. “Without
the work you do, we would have been at a standstill in patient care," she says.
like these are far too rare. Sometimes it takes others to remind us of our
value. Please share with your friends.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929. Best known as "the slain civil rights leader" his mission was fighting for civil rights through nonviolent means. His birthday is now a federal holiday celebrated in all 50 states, although with some reluctance, on the third Monday in January. This year it will be observed on Monday the 19th.
MLK's life was one of service and in recent years the emphasis has been on celebrating the holiday through some act of community service. The idea, as someone said, is to have " a day ON and not simply a day off."
Our profession is by definition one of service. It is no surprise that on Monday, while many Americans will be celebrating a day of rest and relaxation, many of our colleagues will be at work providing healthcare as we do 365 days a year, 24/7. But for those who will not be working, what will you be doing? This is a perfect day to volunteer to help someone less fortunate or who can benefit from your expertise, knowledge; or even your physical effort.
Service is always about the other person, not us, but it is still an opportunity to teach others who we are and what we do. I have met many friends and professional contacts through volunteering, which is something I enjoy and feel compelled to do.
A simple pleasantry like "Where do you work?" or "So what do you do?" is always an opportunity to educate and to advocate for the profession.
The primary function of service is to GIVE, but one can always do well (and derive some benefit) even as one does good.
Whether you are at work or not, I urge you to make this MLK Day a day "on" and not a day off.
For several years now there has been talk
about a doctorate in Medical Laboratory Science (DCLS). This idea was advanced
by ASCLS to support the idea that medical laboratory science has a unique,
distinct, significant body of knowledge that MLS practitioners should be able to practice independently as do
other professionals with similar education and training.
developed and published a substantial toolkit which
serves as a reference for educators wanting to craft and offer a DCLS program.
Professional groups worked with NAACLS, the agency that accredits MLS programs,
to develop standards and guidelines for accreditation of DCLS programs
recent years many professions that contribute significantly to patient care
have asserted their right to have their own doctorate, with pharmacists being
the most well-known non-medical “doctor” in the healthcare setting. Others like
physical therapy have also advanced the idea of a doctorate as an entry level
the hard work that has gone into floating the idea of a DCLS, very few schools
have made the leap to actually offering such a degree and enrolling students. I suspect it might even be difficult to convince universities to authorize a new program without a clear return on investment for the university.
think there are several reasons for this lackluster response to the DCLS:
MLS practitioners still think of themselves as “only techs” and do not believe
there is a viable option for advanced practice or a more significant role in
health care for “lab techs.”
contents and goal of a DCLS curriculum are not clear. Even those who support
the idea of a DCLS describe the ideal program in several very different ways. Will a
DCLS focus on clinical research, advanced practice, clinical consultation,
directorship of a medical laboratory? All of the above? Will there be the
option to specialize in one area, as pharmacists often do, for example?
no clear or reasonable assurance of a niche in healthcare, few want to expend
the time and finances involved in completing a doctoral program
healthcare administrators nor pathologists are advocates of the DCLS role.
Healthcare administrators are concerned about increased labor cost, while
pathologists might fear competition and usurpation of their role as “the lab
requirements for DCLS programs seem very rigid. One program says “Only those
with an MLS(ASCP) will be admitted.” A
successful program, especially one that is largely experimental should be more
flexible, offering online options, allowing specializations and so on. This can
be done while maintaining academic rigor. Just look at the flexibility of many advanced
practice nursing programs.
I continue to be an advocate of the DCLS idea, I feel more needs to be done to
clarify the role, to market the benefit to employers and regulatory agencies, and
to make the degree more attainable.
is unlikely that the DCLS will catch on as a first professional degree (as the
MD or PharmD) needed to enter the profession.
If folks balk at the idea of professional licensure (for professionals
who already meet the requirements for licensure) they are unlikely to go for a
higher entry-level degree.
DCLS is much more likely to be an advanced practice degree, gained after a
first degree (and some experience) where the practitioners assume roles over
and above that of the “typical” bench MLS/MLT. The question remains “What
The DCLS is unlikely to gain popularity until that question is answered satisfactorily and all the players (MLS practitioners, clinicians, employers, regulatory agencies
and even the public) can see some benefit for themselves.
In casual conversation we use the terms cost, price
and value almost interchangeably. That might seem to be just semantics, but I
think we send mixed messages or act inappropriately when we start believing these
concepts are identical.
Anyone who has a teenager probably knows all too well how they
are guided by peer pressure. All the girls tend to wear the same fashion. Young people of
both genders hanker for the latest “trendy” shoes, gadget or new toy. To many
the cost does not matter and the sellers (knowing the demand) over-charge accordingly.
A friend of mine told me his son who is unemployed
borrowed $200 to acquire a pair of sneakers because they were the “it” shoes of
his generation. I have driven a luxury car for the past few years but as it
aged the repairs became never-ending and very expensive. So I traded it in for
a sturdy, dependable Japanese car and am shocked at the many comments I have
received. You would think condolences are in order because I have been “reduced”
to a non-luxury car with much less status.
OK, so that gets me back to the various terms I
started this blog with. I am writing this not only because of recent experiences, but because I believe they have
significance to all our personal lives and also our professional lives. How do
you value yourself, your colleagues and your profession?
Let’s just define those key terms simply, instead of using the formal economic definitions.
whatever is spent to produce goods and services. So it might be what Toyota spends
to make a car, how much Apple pays a worker in Asia to make an i-phone, or how
much your employer is out of pocket to have you work for them (recruitment,
salary, benefits etc).
Price: is the what is charged
or received by a seller. Again, using the car/employer analogy, it’s what someone
pays the dealer for a Camry, or what your employer pays you to do a job as a
phlebotomist, MLT or MLS for them.
is whatever the customer believes a certain good
or service is worth. Value is a much more subjective quality, but it is what
really drives the price. The perceived value of "it" sneakers or an I-phone have very little to do with their respective cost of production. You can look at various professionals and realize that pay
is not commensurate with education, work ethic, competence, service provided and so on.
neighbor was willing to go into debt and pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of
sneakers because of the value he assigned to those shoes. Employers will pay certain employees more because of their perceived value in the organization.
We tend to regard anything with a high price tag as
being valuable, or more significant and important. The converse is also true:
if we can convince a customer or employer that we are valuable, important,
critical, crucial to their success, then our value increases.
These might appear to be subtle differences, but not
knowing the difference often results in being undervalued and underpaid.
Here’s to recognizing and explaining your value (and
fetching an appropriate price) as you move into the New Year
Think about the people you know professionally; and
most likely the majority are also laboratorians. That seems logical because you
interact with colleagues at work. Maybe you belong to a local professional
group or even a national membership organization. You might even know the
majority of medical laboratorians in your city. That makes sense.
But think for a minute about the many professionals you
know who may help in your career or who you can use as a resource from time to time.
Research conducted by Ronald Burt at the University
of Chicago School of Business finds that our personal and professional lives
are richer and more productive if we build bridges with others who are
different and with whom we would not normally interact. This is called bridging
Certain individuals and groups seem naturally connected to
certain others; often comparing similarities and exchanging thoughts, ideas and even
Burt says social capital, on the other hand, is created by brokering
connections by otherwise disconnected segments. All parties benefit from this symbiotic structure.
By the way, this is not the same as networking which is a
deliberate strategy of expanding your list of contacts so that you can call on them
periodically if needed.
You can deliberately bridge structural holes by
creating associations outside of the laboratory: in your organization, at
church, in a volunteer organization and even online. Sometimes
it takes someone with different experiences and frames of references to
bring a new perspective. They can identify strengths, weaknesses and even holes
in your logic that you cannot see. In return you can garner support and even borrow ideas of how to
solve a problem you are grappling with.
The great thing about bridging structural holes is
that it is mutually beneficial. Many processes or lines of thought which are traditionally
connected with scientists can be beneficial to those in business, social
science and other areas. The reverse is also true. I cannot count the many times I have been complimented on my ability to analyze complex material or my keen attention to detail. These traits come naturally to scientists, but not necessarily to my friends in business, some clinical disciplines or even journalism.
When you adopt (or adapt) someone’s ideas you don’t even
have to tell them, and you can avoid the sense of obligation of having to constantly
ask for favors.
Here's the take-away. Deliberately court relationships with others “not
like you” and observe how they think, the logic they use, they tools they have,
the resources they draw on. Learn from them as they learn from you.
Chances are you will find something useful that will
benefit you in your personal or professional life.
year is winding down and it is traditional to start looking forward to the next
year. This is the time of year when we traditionally start thinking about what
changes we will make in the New Year.
have already started penning their New Year's Resolutions. May I suggest that
before you jump into crafting the year ahead, you review the current year. Get
pen and paper and be brutally honest. It might take several sessions. If necessary,
leave your list and come back to it after some hours (or a few days) of
contemplation and memory recall. Analysis of personal and professional
successes and challenges often come up with similar issues; a theme if you
worked well? What did not? What issues kept popping up? What challenges were
there? Those should be the areas on which you focus your attention. Is there a theme? You might
find, for example that both personally and professionally time management or
life balance were challenging. If so, how can you commit to doing things
differently in 2015?
am not a big advocate of lists or promise-to-do resolutions. I have blogged
about those previously.
Since areas that we want to
work on or goals we want to achieve tend to have a theme, I suggest (as I did
that we concentrate on a vision for the new year.
Holding that one grand idea helps to focus attention and keeps you in check as
you measure significant actions against
that vision, “Will this action (move,
job, school, relationship, expenditure etc.) move me closer towards my grand goal
I received scores of emails from individuals who have
found this concept useful, so I submit it to you as well.
Here’s wishing you a very happy, prosperous and
successful 2015, and please share your insights and successes with us!
As we come towards the end of the year several publications generate lists, perform annual reviews and select the most newsworthy items for that year. One eagerly anticipated “contest” every year is the Time Magazine Person of the Year (POTY).
This year Time chose “The Ebola Fighters” as their POTY. “They risked and persisted, sacrificed and saved,” says the preamble to the declaration. They even waxed poetic by adding, "Not the glittering weapon fights the fight, says the proverb, but rather the hero's heart."
I totally understand this choice given the focus on Ebola this year, and the fact that for the first time in the history of the disease Americans were affected in a real way. It is human nature to attach more importance to matters that affect us than those that occur far away.
However, if the POTY needs not be one individual, and if the honor is to recognize those who have made a real impact on the world, then I nominate (and select) the Medical Laboratory Professional.
These professionals-scientist, technician, specialist, pathologist-work tirelessly all year to be medical detectives, ferreting out the cause of disease, monitoring the effectiveness of treatment and helping to maintain health. This might not be a showy endeavor that makes the news, or even attracts the attention of patients and other healthcare providers, but it is vitally important work. In fact it is essential.
I suggest that the real heroes are those who not only perform yeoman duty every day, but continue to do so despite the lack of public recognition or even compensation commensurate with the value they contribute to the public’s health. It is not the "glittering weapons” of analyzers and “toys” in the laboratory, but the talent, competence and heart of the laboratorian that really make the difference.
Like everyone else I read the annual lists and honors, but I choose to salute you, my fellow laboratorians, individually and collectively, as The Person of the Year!
Bigger is not always better, it turns out. It seems our appliances, gadgets and instruments are getting smaller; or at least coming in smaller versions, even as they have more capability.
I was watching an old crime movie this past weekend and burst out laughing when a detective pulled out a cell phone the size and shape of a brick. That was state of the art technology in communications back then. Over the years cell phones have gotten smaller even as their sophistication has increased. The typical smart phone is not just slim, but has the memory and capability of a full size computer. In fact the cell phone in your pocket most likely has more computing power than the computers that first put man on the moon.
The entire Point of Care Testing (POCT) arena has been growing by leaps and bounds as many tests traditionally performed in the laboratory on large, complex instruments can now be done on small black boxes or test kits close to the patient.
One new development in the news is that of what has been dubbed by some the Theranos Miracle. California-based startup company Theranos under founder Elizabeth Holmes is threatening to revolutionize the field of medical laboratory testing. Theranos has developed a proprietary phlebotomy process that is self-described as “a painless micro-needle that draws a few drops of blood, enough to perform 70 assays per sample.”
The company is now offering blood draws in Walgreen pharmacies, offering not just convenience, but patient comfort and fast turnaround time. But lest you think this is just a small niche market, or that the claims of revolution are hype, look at the following
- The Theranos lab in Palo Alto is CLIA certified
-They are highly capitalized with millions of venture capitalist dollars
-They intend to expand nationwide
- They want to act as a reference lab for smaller labs and even larger hospitals by being competitively priced, offering a large menu, small sample size and rapid TAT
-They use cutting edge testing technology like ELISA and nucleic acid amplification
-They are in the process of obtaining FDA clearance for all of their tests
-They are highly computerized, so there is positive identification and specimen tracking from collection all the way back to the ordering provider
Laboratorians traditionally love technology. But here is a development that could revolutionalize the way we practice-and even who performs testing. How do you feel about this sort of new development? We have seen that technology tends to grow exponentially rather than incrementally so ventures like Theranos are likely to become more common with more bells and whistles pretty fast. Technology tends to be exponential, even as organizations change more slowly or logarithmically. Will your organization be ready to capitalize on this sort of modified lab-on-a-chip?
Do you feel threatened in your role as a traditional laboratorian and how do you think these changes will affect the profession as a whole?
In a few days the country will be celebrating Thanksgiving,but this festive holiday means different things to different people. To many it will be a day off from work, a time to spend with family, to over-eat and drink too much. It will be a time when family members get to show off their favorite recipes, critically assess relatives they haven't seen all year and, if lucky, enjoy a long weekend. To others it signals the start of the Christmas shopping season and an opportunity to start eagerly stimulating the econmy!
It is pretty easy to forget how Thanksgiving started as a celebration of a successful harvest by the Pilgrims, that over the years there have been different days of thanksgiving based on historical milestones, or that the day itself was not always a permanent national holiday.
Many incorrectly think of Thanksgiving as a uniquely American holiday. I once mentioned to a colleague that I was headed to Toronto to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with family and friends. I told him the celebration was on the 2nd Monday in October. He replied in utter consternation, "Why do Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving? What are they grateful for and why are they celebrating on the wrong day?"
So the idea of giving thanks on a particular day has a checkered history; but reduced to its basics, it is a time to be grateful for all the blessings we have individually, as a nation, as a family, and as a profession. It is formal recognition of the gratitude we should feel all year long.
As a profession we should be grateful for the opportunity to serve, the ability to make such a valuable contribution to the health of this great country. We have a long way to go in terms of recognition (pay, independent practice and licensure, for example) but we have also come a very long way, especially technologically.
While many can kick back and enjoy a long weekend of feasting, fellowship and foootball, many of you, my colleagues, will be away from family and friends; working as you do all year long. You will be supporting the health of the country. For that, I am personally grateful. You will be using your expertise, competence, knowledge and critical thinking skills to make crucial decisions that often mean life or death. For that, I am immensely grateful.
Whatever you are doing this Thanksgiving and however you choose to celebrate it, enjoy it and be safe. And, please take a moment to acknowledge those achievements, qualities, individuals and blessings for which YOU are grateful.