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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

There is a Great Need for More Useful MLS Research
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.

HHS Publishes Final Rule on Patient Access to Their Lab results
March 16, 2014 1:21 AM by Glen McDaniel

Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a final rule that requires laboratories to give patients access to their lab results. A few years ago Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius reaffirmed the Obama Administration commitment to patient-centered care.


A part of that initiative, she indicated, had to include a re-assessment of the whole idea of who owns the patient’s information. 


We had always believed that the patient could have access to their medical records, but even in that context, providers maintained that certain notes could still be withheld  from the patient as not a material or essential part of the record.  HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) laid out very specific restrictions on the handling, storage, protection, and sharing or disclosing of patient information. In addition many states severely restricted the release of laboratory results. In most states, lab results can only be released to the ordering provider with very few exceptions.


This new final rule by HHS says that patients own their results and have the right to receive access to their lab results. In other words, laboratories must establish a clear process for providing patients with their results if and when patients request such results.


Both CLIA’88 and HIPAA had to be amended to allow this expanded access. Patients may still continue to receive results from their provider, of course. But under the new mandate, laboratories must give requested results (including an electronic copy) to the patient and/or the patient’s designated representative. Requested results must be provided within 30 days.


The Final Rule goes into effect April 5, with all covered entities mandated to comply by October 2 of this year.


The final rule is available at www.federalregister.gov


How will your lab comply with this new mandate?

Glucose or HbA1c..Who you Gonna Call?
March 1, 2014 1:28 PM by Glen McDaniel

I have the most instructive conversations with physicians and others outside of our profession. Some day I would like to write a book of such conversations and recommend its use as a discussion point for medical laboratory students. My friend the endocrinologist was gushing to me about how wonderful HbA1c is. “I no longer order glucoses,” she said.


Her logic was that glycosylated hemoglobin gives her a more accurate, realistic, long term view of the patient’s glucose management. The patient does not have to be fasting and she finds that she can “bust” patients who watch their diet meticulously a few days before their visit, hoping she will see what she calls “a good number” suggestive of better glucose management than really does exist.


She wanted to know why “the lab” has not developed point of care HbA1c instruments for use in clinics and medical offices. Why can’t she have that result when the patient is in the office? I was explaining the state of the art technology available when a pathologist joined us.


The endocrinologist recapped the discussion  for the pathologist who immediately furrowed his brow and declared that a glucose is still far superior to a HbA1c. Results from different labs and even from different visits at the same laboratory are not comparable, he said. HbA1c should ideally be used a few times per year for monitoring patient compliance with their medical regimen.


He continued that glucose has ben around for ever, the technology is better and it should always be used as the screen which then triggers a HbA1c. Besides, a physician will only be reimbursed for ordering a HbA1c a couple times a year. I had no way of verifying if that’s true or not, so I did not comment.  But when he launched into a discussion on the relative inaccuracy and imprecision of HbA1c compared to glucose,  and the merits of the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) I sort of zoned out to protect my brain.


This pathologist was an anatomical pathologist, not a clinical pathologist, which is an issue for an entirely different discussion. But the conversation and how it progressed got me thinking about several things.


-Clinicians like this endocrinologist are very eager to discuss the use and relative merits of laboratory tests with the experts-whether those are MLSs, pathologists, pharmacists or vendors pushing the newest black box.

- Are pathologists, especially anatomical pathologists, really the right individuals to represent the clinical laboratory as experts on what we do?

-Some research after our talk indicated that fasting glucose variation can run around  8 percent In a single individual day over day, so my pathologist friend was not entirely correct about how accurate/precise glucose determinations are.

-I discovered that the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has been recommending that HbA1c be adopted as an adjunct in the diagnosis of diabetes and prediabetes. Further, agencies like the National Glycohemoglobin Standardization Program (NGSP) has done tremendous work in standardization and controlling coefficient of variation among tests. Consequently, the accuracy and comparability of HbA1c have increased remarkably in recent years.

-Our discussions with clinicians need not be too technical. But we should remind them when they ask about a new test or want a new point of care toy that as scientists we need to look at aspects like ease of performance, specimen requirement, accuracy, clinical utility, and positive or negative correlation with disease or disease risk.  

-People tend to believe us if we speak with authority and have a history of not mis-speaking. 


Because of family history and my own personal medical history I have  a vested interest in how my physician uses and interprets glucose and HbA1c, but more importantly, I want medical laboratorians to be informed, to keep current, and to offer sound scientific guidance to clinicians. Nature abhors a vacuum and if we are absent, all sorts of “experts” will jump in, often offering information which is misleading at best.

As Long as You Don’t Call my Instrument a Machine
February 22, 2014 3:15 PM by Glen McDaniel

I had witnessed this situation many times before, but I still paid attention. "It’s an instrument, not a machine, stupid,” the MLS yelled to the entire room  in general, and no one in particular, as she hung up the phone. angrily.  When questioned she explained that a physician had called wanting to know if the “troponin machine” was calibrated because he seemed to be getting high values on his ED patients this evening.


Again, I recalled how upset many laboratorians get at the equipment nomenclature. In this case she could have decided to rerun controls, explain the issue might be the patient population: patients presenting with chest pain in the ED, troponin requested on symptomatic patients to make a differential diagnosis . She might also have legitimately explained that of all the troponin tests done that shift only 2 had been elevated. But instead she took umbrage at the terminology  “machine.”


A name is certainly important. For example, I resent being called a tech, techinician, technologist or “the lab.” I recoil when laboratorians are mistaken for nurses, or I , as an older male, am presumed to be a doctor.  I do not like being considered a person who pushes buttons and if my “machine” is calibrated, all I have to do is read the number off the screen or a printout. But I do not care if that big hulking piece of metal  which I use to generate results is called Bob, Mary, an instrument or  a machine.


To a pilot, their airplane is a machine and instruments are parts of the machine that give information and help to fly the plane. To a surgeon, instruments are the tools of their trade (scalpel, retractors, clamps) while machines (ventilators, monitors) maintain patient function or provide vital information about the patient’s status. To others in healthcare, like respiratory therapists,  the terms machine and instrument are in fact interchangeable. The point is: machines can be very sophisticated contraptions that perform some very vital functions. No other profession I can think of gets as anal and defensive about this innocuous distinction.


As a profession our career path is very compressed, there is overlap of scopes of practice between professionals and paraprofessionals, other professions legally co-opt the right to perform laboratory testing. We do not have professional licensure in most states. Our scope of practice is not protected. The public we serve is not aware of our education, value or role in healthcare. Why don’t we expend our energy on changing these anomalies?


What do we gain professionally if our tools are addressed respectfully as “instruments”?  Certainly we have bigger fish to fry that getting all bent out of shape because someone outside the profession refers to one of our tools as a machine?



Labs Need to Embrace m-Health
February 2, 2014 5:24 PM by Glen McDaniel

We have all got fairly used to the concept of e-healthcare in recent years. It is the odd healthcare organization, laboratory or physician office that depends mostly on paper records anymore. From legibility to patient safety to access to patient information across the continuum of care it makes sense to use computers and the internet rather than paper.

I experienced the seamless use of e-health delivery recently when I went to see a physician who was a member of my HMO. I went to an office that was convenient to where I was  attending a seminar-as opposed to going to see my regular physician. My medical record, including lab results and medication list, was immediately available and my (astute) physician was pretty conversant with my history by the time I saw him in the examination room. I needed a paper prescription and it was printed out on secure counterfeit-free paper and available to me at check out.

A subset of e-health is the area of m-health or mobile healthcare. Just about every business has an app (application) these days that can run on a smartphone operating system platform. Increasingly healthcare is joining the app revolution.  A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP predict that globally m-health will be a $23 billion market by the year 2017, of which the US will account for about 28 percent.


I had the option of getting my detailed discharge instructions printed in the office or emailed to me along with a copy of the receipt for my co-pay. I chose email, instead of detailing with reams of paper with the risk of misplacing them; or having the formation end up in the wrong hands.


Providing as much vital information as it does the clinical laboratory must start looking at the adoption of m-health sooner than later. Possible uses include

  • Ability to email a provider directly

  • Receiving lab results by text or email. At a minimum, patients and providers should have the option of being advised that results are ready; and then being able to access a secure portal where the actual result is viewable

  • Being able to easily track, trend  and graph lab results over time

  • Accessing results of lab tests done outside the traditional system (such as while traveling) and therefore not otherwise available to the regular provider

  • Storing scannable patient identification: medical record number, unique identifiers

  • Being able to make and confirm appointments with a provider or the outpatient laboratory through text or email

  • Increased health literacy by accessing information about use and/or interpretation of lab results individualized by patient


    To be sure there will be issues of security and confidentiality. Systems must have inter-operability without a significant risk of leaks. Sensitive information has to be restricted and accessible only to those who have a genuine “need to know.” But these requirements can be met; in fact more confidently than with paper records and through telephone calls.


    First we had voice and paper, then e-health and now m-health. For the laboratory with its masses of vital time-sensitive data, the opportunities are both positive and endless.

Never Discount the Power of One
January 26, 2014 2:28 PM by Glen McDaniel

We seem to have lots to complain about in this profession: low pay, lack of recognition, a flat career ladder and encroachment on our scope of practice for starters. Next to pointing out our ills the runner up theme is the mantra things will not improve until “they” fix it. Who are they?


Depending on whom you ask, the real influential people who can make a difference are professional organizations, employers, pathologists, regulatory agencies and, possibly, the government. Maybe if we formed a group or put together a petition, then we could influence the real powerbrokers. Notice it is never, “What can I do?”


The proof that one person can in fact make a difference has been driven home to us over the years. The road of history is paved with examples of heroic individuals who made a difference. Even if they eventually influenced a large group, they often started alone with an idea or belief and then ventured forth while it was still unpopular. One person can indeed make a difference.


This idea of the Power of One was demonstrated to me recently. The two-man bobsled Jamaican team qualified to participate in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.


 How someone in a tiny tropical island conceived of creating a team capable of competing against world class athletes in a winter sport is a miracle in itself. In any event the team found itself so strapped for cash that there was the real possibility they would not be able to make it to the gamesThen one sports fan in Washington, DC decided to use the magic of social media and start a fundraising campaign on the crowdfunding site Crowdtilt.


The news quickly went viral being shared by thousands on social media and covered by major news organizations worldwide.


Cash started rolling in and within a couple of days the campaign had netted almost $130, 000. I emailed both the fan who started the campaign and the CEO of Crowdtilt  and they both said they were blown away by the response. All they had going in was a passion for the cause and a belief that they should do something, rather than waiting for others.


Think for a minute; what were the odds of success without a big corporation or government (“they”) stepping in and helping? The existence of the bobsled team, their qualifying for the Olympics, one individual starting a fundraiser, the creation of  crowdfunding sites like Crowdtilt; all speak to the Power of One.


Success is always great, but it is instructive to remember that many times the most phenomenal feats have been achieved not through a large group of others, but simply by each one of us doing something to start the ball rolling. We all can influence, even  if not totally transform, simply by harnessing the Power of One.

Is this Quality or Just Habit?
January 18, 2014 12:36 PM by Glen McDaniel


The Director of Nursing hotly defended her staff. They had in fact performed quality control on the point of care glucose meters per policy. They had dated and initialed the appropriate line on the sheet. What was the lab complaining about? What did the state inspector mean by citing them?


Let me back up and explain. A few years ago I was associated with an organization where nurses performed glucose and urine pregnancy point of care testing. The nurses were trained to perform quality control and to document QC as well as maintenance on a log sheet. However it was a constant battle to ensure compliance. One day the state came in and found a couple instances were QC was performed, but were out of range. There was no corrective action documented, yet patient testing was performed.


The Director of Nursing could not grasp the concept of running QC to indicate acceptable performance of the test system. In her mind, QC and maintenance were just tasks to be checked off a list. Over the years, I have come to realize that many concepts we medical laboratorians consider fundamental are alien to those in other professions, including nurses.


I have also noticed that as laboratorians we also do some tasks by rote without thinking whether they are logical or not. Some recent examples I have seen with clients: performing 3 levels of QC daily for low volume tests that the lab performs maybe twice weekly. Another client performed correlation on all 82 of their (identical) glucose meters instead of using a representative sample as recommended by CLSI. A small laboratory performs quality control on their chemistry analyzer each of three shifts. Yet another , strapped for space) uses valuable refrigerator space storing their urine samples for a week. Why? Their policy says, "patient specimens are stored for 7 days."


How much of what we do is based on ensuring quality and how much is simply checking off a task on a list? With the increased sophistication of laboratory instruments is it still logical to perform the sort of validation studies traditionally required by CLIA? How often should methods be revalidated?


Another area that needs consideration is reporting results. Increasingly physicians are pleading for decision limits or cut-points instead of a "normal range."  Maybe our reference intervals should provide more information than normal/abnormal, or low-normal-high.


As laboratorians we are very concerned with quality, but I suggest we periodically look at our long list of “tasks” and reconsider which ones contribute to quality and enhance patient care, versus those which are just something on a list and no longer serve a useful purpose.


Is there a task or process in your lab that has passed its prime or that you perform without knowing exactly why you do it?


Create a New Year’s Vision-not a Resolution
December 31, 2013 4:56 PM by Glen McDaniel

A new year starts in just a few hours and this is traditionally the time to make resolutions.  Some people are just pressured into resolving to do better because it is what is expected. Others sincerely pledge to make some positive change in their lives.

The sad reality is, however, that most new year’s resolutions fail. It doesn’t take long either: many New Year’s resolutions go the way of the wooly mammoth within the first few weeks of the new year.

A study conducted last year showed that a full 50 percent of folks abandon their firm resolve, before even making an effort to start!

A goal can be made at any time, not just at New Year, of course. Generally I recommend that in order to be effective every goal should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time limited). So a goal to further my education and get a higher paying job might be refined to read:

“I will complete my first year in the MHA program at XYZ college by December 2014.”

SMART goals give specific yardsticks by which success can be measured.  In order to achieve a SMART goal, specific, targeted actions have to be taken to ensure the goal is achieved within the time frame. There are maps, goalposts and deadlines.

Making goals SMART is a very sound strategy. However, if you have been unsuccessful in keeping New Year’s resolutions in the past, and if you have only a general idea of what you want to achieve, you may use a modified version of a resolution by creating and writing down a vision. A vision is essentially what you want to be or do or have. It sets a direction for where you want to go, or end up.

Organizations use vision statements as lofty ideas of how they would like to be perceived, maybe in a few years' time. “To be the preeminent provider of healthcare in the TriState region” is an example of a healthcare provider's vision statement.  However, although  it represents a lofty goal, that statement is almost a wish or hope and it does not have the specific and measurable features of a SMART goal.

The good thing about a vision, other than the facts it is less specific, less pressure-laden and less prone to failure is that by its very existence it tends to move an individual or organization in that direction. If an organization or individual uses their vision as a framework or measuring stick for every action taken, they are more likely to move in that direction. It is pretty obvious that some strategies will get you closer to your goal, while others will not.

Another interesting thing about a vision is its psychological effect. Human beings are teleological or goal driven. Even subconsciously they tend to move towards a goal, once the goal has been set. Ever notice how once you become interested in a smart phone, car or appliance, you start seeing it everywhere? You start seeing articles and commercials featuring what you want. Your friends on Facebook start talking about it. That’s how goal-seeking works.

Some might even say there is a conspiracy of circumstances to create your vision once you create it and turn it loose.

So this New Year I suggest that instead of yet another doomed resolution you might want to set a vision. Where do you want to be in 1 year’s time? In 5 years? What do you want to be, to do, to have? Write it down. Read it often. Be open and receptive to nontraditional options. Take actions that move you in the direction of your dream whenever opportunities present themselves-and they will!

I would love to hear your experiences of visioning throughout the year.  I wish you much health, happiness and success in your personal and professional lives for 2014.


Sounds Like a Personal Problem to Me
December 28, 2013 4:38 PM by Glen McDaniel


You might be familiar with the comeback, “Sounds like a personal problem to me.” That expression is usually used to quash a complaint or an excuse not living up to expectations. That expression came to mind recently.


The weather is usually mild in Atlanta where I live. However we had a steady two-week cold snap and my steep, winding driveway froze over. On my way home one evening, I was unable to successfully navigate the slippery obstacle course and my car slid into the bushes, teetering  dangerously close to a precipitous slope.


I called my emergency road service company and they sent a wrecker out to “rescue” me. The driver arrived a couple hours later and immediately complained that he was working alone on a job that should be staffed by two people. Not only were they short-staffed, he said, but there were lots of wrecks because of the weather. He gave me a lecture on safe winter driving, how to navigate a hazardous roadway and the wisdom of never choosing a residence with such a steep driveway.


He then told me he was being paid only a paltry sum by his company and so this very complicated operation was not worth it to him financially. He warned me it was very unlikely my car would not be scratched and damaged even if he could somehow get it on the bed of his truck. I signed the waiver, absolving the wrecker of any liability for damages incurred during the operation. I waited with trepidation, helping to push, pull, steer-whatever he asked me to do.


After an hour of manoeuvers and curses, my car was safely “extricated” and rested on terra firma at the bottom of my driveway where it spent the night until my driveway could be defrosted.


I kept thinking what lousy customer service and how unconcerned I was with all the driver’s “personal problems.”  I paid for a service and expected the company to honor their contract without whining or blaming.


How often as professionals do we whine, blame and play victim when confronted by a deadline or complication?  Our customers (patients, doctors, nurses) feel pretty much the way I did as a customer, “Sounds like a personal problem to me. “  They have certain expectations and we as professionals implicitly promise we are competent to deliver, and capable of making good, on that promise.


Those we serve really do not care if we are short staffed, our equipment is acting quirky, the antibody is “hiding” or our Wright’s stain has artifacts. You say, "Those are realities, so why shouldn't we let them know?”


I believe it’s all a matter of perspective and approach. First recognize we all have the same goal of quality, timely patient care. However at any one time, our priorities and perspectives may be different.  It is normal that we tend to be ego-centic in our views. The suggestion is to acknowledge the clinician’s frustration with not receiving a result in the expected time frame.  Then calmly explain why the result might be taking longer than anticipated. If possible, give an expected timeframe for completion. Finally, when the result is available, go the extra mile of making sure the decision maker knows what it is, or where it’s available to be accessed.


This sounds very simple and almost  too simplistic, but the suggestion is to explain the reality in  non-confrontational  and non-defensive tones. This is an opportunity to practice the Straight A’s of responding to customer complaints: Acknowledge, Apologize and Act.


Acknowledge: I realize/ I agree/ I know that…

Apologize: I am really sorry that…

Act: This is what is happening (this is why we have an issue making service more complex, less timely, or falling short of what’s expected). Then immediately go on to explain what actions you are taking to resolve the issue.

  • This is what I am doing about it

  • Give an expected, realistic timeframe for resolution, if possible

  • Provide result ASAP and inform customer

  • Followup by giving a progress report if the deadline is not going to be met


In most interactions, we do not have to deny the reality or try to obscure the facts. However, those whom we serve, those who are depending on us to deliver, respond very differently based on how we present the reality.

Medical Lab Science is Still a Growth Career
December 22, 2013 3:55 PM by Glen McDaniel


Just this week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its report of job prospects for the next ten years (actually between 2012 and 2022).



Not surprisingly, healthcare topped the list of attractive fields, projected to grow at almost three percent, adding an estimated 5 million new workers- a third of all new jobs.  The report also breaks down the statistics by occupational role. 


Most of the overall 10.8 percent growth will occur, not surprisingly in service jobs like healthcare as opposed to jobs that produce goods like manufacturing or construction. The healthcare sector is further broken down by scope.  It turns out that healthcare will be  among the four major occupational groups that are projected to grow more than 20 percent—nearly double the overall growth from 2012 to 2022. But healthcare support occupations will surpass healthcare practitioners and technical occupations (28.1 percent versus 21.5 percent. (See Chart 2 and Table 6).



As we all already know, in all areas of healthcare paraprofessionals will be in increasingly greater demand and will be utilized more as the population ages and care needs increase. Does that mean laboratory scientists will be replaced by laboratory aides or technicians? No, that is very unlikely. That fear is as unfounded as the perennial rumor that more instrumentation will eventually make medical lab scientists redundant.


It does mean two things, however. If paraprofessionals are to competently assume greater responsibilities and represent the laboratory even more, we have to make sure they are prepared to safely and effectively fulfil those roles.  Phlebotomists might be trained as lab assistants with expanded auxiliary roles. Customer service reps should be taught scripting to answer common questions and trained on when to escalate issues outside their scope. MLTs may be encouraged to become MLSs and assume more responsibilities. Education and training should be seen as added value; as should seeking national certification.


As roles shift across the entire healthcare team, the needs of the laboratory's customers will also change and we must be ready for the new challenge.  Scientists should jump at the opportunity to interact more with their peers outside the laboratory, instead of performing the more “tasky” duties that are customary.  There can be more effective representation on decision making committees like the Quality Council, Pharmacy, Nutrition and Therapeutics (PNT) committees and the like. 


Long delayed projects related to test utilization and provision of interpretive guidelines can be pursued.  Busy, overwhelmed clinicians would welcome  even the most basic phone consultations, if they were available. There are best practices to be established and research to provide hard data applicable to medical laboratory science practice, much like other professions have done.


Many of us are on our way out, possibly on the way to retirement. However it is heartening to know that our profession will continue to grow.


It’s Not My Job-Or is It?
November 24, 2013 4:32 PM by Glen McDaniel

No matter what your job is, it’s likely you periodically encounter situations that make you consider whether you should just look the other way or take ownership. This might range from a customer service issue with a patient, to an interdepartmental impasse to a human resource issue.


Very often we are tempted to take a pass on resolution of the problem because we already have enough on our plate. We either ignore (or delegate) resolution of what is seen as just a nagging interruption to our already busy day.


But not all challenges are created equal. As laboratorians we wag our fingers at clinicians who constantly over-order or order inappropriately, but we say nothing using the excuse, “He is the doctor,” or “I am just a tech.” Do we have a responsibility to voice an opinion? I do not mean delivering a lecture, or outright  refusal to perform the test. But what about a concerted  push for the development of a team looking at utilization and developing algorithms for test ordering?  Variation from of the algorithm would require some sort of  justification. Pharmacists have developed drug formularies and ordering guidelines that physicians must adhere to. You never hear, “Well, I am just the pharmacist, I must dispense whatever the physician ordered.”


Some issues that arise are not merely policy-related or procedural, they have an ethical component as well. How would you react to the following real-life situations?


-A supervisor who asks staff to “fix” QC and temperature charts before a survey in order not to be cited.

-A lab manager who tweaks quality data like blood stream infection rate or analytical error rate before the data is submitted to the organization’s Quality Council?

- A colleague who accesses the CFO’s medical record because she “heard” he was recently diagnosed with….. (choose an illness)

-An MLS who modifies the rules for manual differentials or microscopic urines in order to end his shift on time.

- A colleague, Mary, who falsifies time by asking a colleague, Tom, to clock in and out for her so she gets credited for more than her actual time worked.

-A phlebotomist who discovers she drew the wrong patient but chose not to correct the error since no one questioned the results. 


These are all real situations I have encountered in laboratories and the laboratorian discovering the ethical lapse was reluctant to act. There is always the extra wrinkle if the policy or ethics violator is a superior, but is that a valid reason to ignore the issue?


I would love to hear from readers who have you faced similar dilemmas in their workplace and how they reacted.


Labs Are Vital 2.0 is Here
November 9, 2013 2:19 PM by Glen McDaniel


In 2006, industry giant, Abbott Diagnostics made a major investment in medical laboratory science by launching a campaign called Labs Are Vital. They spent quite a bit of money and expended human resources in setting up a website and trying to energize the medical laboratory community to help spread the message to the wider public that labs are, well, vital.


What was significant at that time is that no other vendor had made such an investment or even, frankly, appeared to empathize with laboratory professions who felt underappreciated, underutilized and even marginalized. Nursing had their huge Johnson and Johnson advertisement Campaign for Nursing’s Future.



Started in 2001, that campaign is still going strong, offering several ads on major cable TV stations, recruiting students to the profession, and help in the way of scholarships and so on.


The intent was always that laboratorians themselves drive the Vital campaign. I recall a national meeting where Abbott had a booth set up with brightly colored professional-looking posters of various laboratorians. Lab attendees at the meeting were encouraged to have their pictures taken with the hope of being featured on a larger than life poster with an appropriately proud and catchy phrase. Medical laboratorians were also encouraged and given ideas on how to celebrate and promote the laboratory not just during Medical Laboratory Professionals Week (MLPW), but all year long.


Earlier this year Abbott finally turned over Labs Are Vital to the international laboratory community. Currently the sponsors are ASCP, IFCC, International Federation of Biomedical Laboratory Science (IFBLS) and the World Association of Societies of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (WASPLM).  Abbott continues to provide financial support, but quite appropriately the direction is intended to be set by laboratory professional organizations and their members.


The new website www.labsarevital.com is up and running and features blogs, commentaries, articles, letters and a schedule of upcoming events. Laboratorians have a chance to weigh in, whether just to comment on a topical issue or to offer suggestions for a bold new initiative.


So, visit the website, browse, contribute, get educated, get new ideas, and get energized. Yes, labs are still vital and with your participation, Labs Are Vital 2.0 has the potential to be even more influential than it's been in the past.

It's OK to Say You Don't Know
November 3, 2013 2:37 PM by Glen McDaniel

I wish I knew everything, but I don't. On second thought: it would be pretty boring to have every fact at my finger tips and I never have to learn, to ask, research or dig for information. In any event, has someone ever asked you a question and you hesitated before admitting that you don't know the answer?

I am the king of trivia, so I have a collection of disjointed facts in my head. I am the kind of friend to call as your lifeline if you are stuck on "Who wants to be a millionaire?"  I am not cocky, because I honestly don't even know how and when I stockpiled all that (largely useless) random pieces of information.

Although my family knows that I am a medical laboratory scientist (not a doctor, pharmacist or nurse) they also turn to me a lot for medical information and advice. I happen to know a little about a lot of things, but I am certainly no substitute for a visit to your physician.

I have long espoused the philosophy that as medical lab scientists we have a unique body of knowledge and are the experts on MLS. I strongly support speaking out and provided current and credible information to physicians, nurses and patients. But in order to provide such a service credibly, honestly and safely, we have to make sure we are truly knowledgeable and accurate.

I was in a medical office recently and overheard a physician explain to a medical assistant that it doesn't matter how long urine is centrifuged for a microscopic examination, but "Most people don't spin long enough, I like mine spun hard for 10 minutes to make sure everything settles."

I recently heard a diabetes educator give blatantly incorrect information to patients about lipids and hemoglobin A1C. When I am in the presence of healthcare professionals who do not know my background, I am amazed at not just how they downplay and "diss" our profession, but how they mischaracterize important aspects like specimen collection, storage, patient preparation and interpretation of test results.

We all have stories about the person in the laboratory who will always give an answer to a caller, instead of referring them to an individual who is more appropriate or knowledgeable. Are your phlebotomists and customer service reps trained to say, "I will let you speak to a MLS about this" or "I am sorry I am not sure, but I will find out and call you back."

There is no shame in not knowing. We hurt our credibility and put patients at risk if we choose to give answers because we want to appear to "know it all."

Again, there is a lot of information we can offer; we absolutely should be more aggressive in giving advice and interpretations; we should wear the mantle of "expert" more confidently and proudly. But part of being a true professional who offers real value to those he serves is to know when-and not be afraid - to say, "I don't know."

Here's Another Opportunity to Help Physicians and Patients
October 19, 2013 7:20 PM by Glen McDaniel

In a recent article, Dr. Diane Shannon talked very poignantly of the reason she left the practice of medicine. Shannon said she was burnt out and wanted to be another addition to the statistic that suicide is higher among female physicians than among females in the general population.

That sounds like hyperbole until you hear how much this physician described how she, and other physicians, are often constantly plagued by worry about their patients. Even while away from work, they go down mental checklists and wonder if they ordered the right tests, gave the correct dosage of medications and so on.

Shannon refers to research that indicates that physician burnout might be related to a combination of four factors:

1. Time pressure

2. Degree of control (lack of control) regarding their work

3. Pace of work or level of chaos surrounding work

4. Values alignment between physicians and administration

You will no doubt think, "Those conditions sound familiar." Not very laboratory is characterized by chaos, but the other three factors are certainly pretty typical of Everylab USA, isn't it? So we can certainly relate to all those stressors and recognize them as contributors to the burnout characteristic of our profession; especially among the older crowd.

However, this article made me think of something else. It is a theory I have long espoused. Physicians, stressed, burnt out and inundated with data, would welcome our help in making sense of the information we provide. In fact we can do much more in converting numbers, data, and text into meaningful information. We can offer up ourselves as experts to call or consult for clarification if needed.

Think of a middle aged man presenting to the ED with belly pain, hepatomegaly and is described as icteric. He denies a history of alcoholism, drug abuse and has not traveled outside the country. So the physician starts an IV, orders a hepatic profile and admits the patient.

The result comes back, and all the attending physician sees is an alphabet soup: hepatitis A, B, C; some antibodies and antigens; IgM; surface and core "stuff."   It is the unusual physician who will immediately understand what all that means. Wouldn't it make a lot of sense for us to send an interpretive report? Would not the physician and patient be better served if they could immediately see what type of hepatitis the patient has and whether it is likely to be acute or chronic, for starters.

That does not constitute the practice of medicine. It is certainly within our capability and scope of practice. We'd rather roll our eyes and make snide remarks about physicians ordering the wrong tests and misinterpreting the results.

A simple act on our part -generating a legible, clear, interpretive report- would go a far way towards improving and expediting patient care. It might not be an exaggeration to say it might well contribute to saving a patient- and
possibly a physician as well.

Find Your Passion, Find Your Niche
October 12, 2013 6:12 PM by Glen McDaniel


There is a lot happening in this country these days. As a medical laboratory scientist, I have been used to change, but it seems like the past few years have been typified by huge changes to many people I know personally and professionally.

One of the questions I get asked a lot as I travel around this country and as I read my emails is , "How can I find a satisfying career in this second half of my life?" or something similar. The professional workforce is aging and as boomers approach retirement, many are burnt out. However the reality is that they might not be able to retire for financial reasons, or they feel healthy and vigorous enough that they are not yet ready to stop working. They are asking, "What else can I do now?" Boomers have become "seekers."

The stock answer to a seeker of any age (or of any background) is to say find your passion, do it for a vocation and you will feel like you are not even working. But how do you find your passion without paying a shrink or life coach? I have a simple method.

Take a piece of paper, grab a pen, sit in a quiet place and answer in writing three simple questions.  

What really excites you?For some this is easy to answer, for others it takes some introspection. Think about the things you like to talk about, to watch on TV. What areas are you always following on the Internet? If you go to a bookstore (yes, those still exist) what section do you gravitate to?

What would you do for free?  OK, the tendency is to say, "Nothing." But if you were independently wealthy or won the lottery, what would you choose to do to keep yourself busy, to give back, and to feed your mind? This can be something specific or a general area. Writing down these answers tens to crystallize your thoughts and let you see a pattern as you write.  So just write freely without censorship.

This may or may something you are especially good at. Do family members and colleagues compliment you in a certain area or constantly volunteer you for a certain type of task that you also like to do?

What really annoys you? This one sounds odd, but if something really annoys you, you generally have some idea of how to change or ameliorate that situation. If it's a process, you might have some alternative suggestions of how you would "run" things better.

These are very simple questions, but I suggest you really think about them. Write down your thoughts and revisit the list three, four, five times. Look for patterns and trends.  This technique can be used in any area of your life. For seeking laboratorians it might mean moving out of the laboratory to pursue something else; whether inside or outside of healthcare. But just as likely it might entail pursuing a path within the
laboratory you had not even considered before.

You could be the laboratory liaison to a college, hospital department or the public.  Think of adding value by being the laboratory expert or "go to" person in a particular area. It might even mean creating a brand new job.  You might well have to sell your boss on changing the status quo; so be prepared to do that. The good thing is I have found that in today's changing, challenging climate, managers all the way up to the C-suite are
very open to any idea that increases productivity, that increases the bottom or line or that makes them look better.

So, open your imagination. Get that piece of paper and start writing.



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