Just a few short months ago Ebola was a disease in a far away continent. The greatest fear was that with our internationally mobile population a case or two might slip into the USA. Then 2 Americans in Liberia contracted the disease and were flown back amongst great fanfare to Atlanta's Emory Hospital where they were treated for several weeks, during which they obtained various experimental treatment. They both recovered and were discharged from the hospital.
But then there was another case in the US, and then another. The CDC has also been receiving calls from emergency rooms all over the country. Epidemiologists and health scientists assess symptoms on the phone and advise whether patients should be hospitalized and isolated, hospitalized and treated supportively, or treated and sent home. Sometimes specimens are drawn and tested for the Ebola virus, sometimes not.
A man who traveled from Liberia to Texas, presented to the emergency room with flu-like symptoms. He was misdiagnosed and sent home. A few days later he returned to the hospital, was admitted and died of Ebola several days later.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there have been over 4,000 deaths from the current Ebola epidemic, and has called this the biggest epidemiological challenge since AIDS .
Several countries including the US have started assessing travelers at the larger airports and denying them travel if they appear to have been exposed to Ebola (or have flu-like symptoms and are traveling from certain areas).
The US hospitals that have treated Ebola patients tend to have entire isolation suites, often with a dedicated care team. In one hospital I know of, specimens were handled exclusively in a point of care lab, samples for further testing were specially bagged and sent off to the CDC. Equipment was sterilized and samples were incinerated or specially disposed of. That is great for a couple of patients, but how will the typical hospital handle suspected Ebola cases coming through their emergency rooms? It is conceivable to have more than one patient at a time.
Laboratories need to know what tests to perform for diagnosis and retrospectively on someone who might have died suspiciously.
Infection control practitioners and risk managers might be building protocols right now, but is the lab involved in the planning? How would your lab handle the sample of a suspected Ebola patient sent for a CBC and electrolytes and crossmatch, for example?
I would like to hear how you personally feel as a scientist in terms of your own comfort level and how well prepared do you think your lab is to handle your first case of Ebola?
Why do we run quality control in the laboratory? The simple, obvious answer is to ensure that the entire test system working together is able to produce reliable results. The rub lies in the concept of reliability. So we run QC based on manufacturer’s directives. But how does the manufacturer come up with its recommendations for a kit, set of reagents or an analyzer?
Then we also run some QC based on regulatory requirements (accrediting agency, CLIA, best practices, state) or based on our organization’s policy. The mandate is to go with the most stringent requirement in each case, but all with the notion of ensuring that the results we produce are reliable.
So if we run quality control for an entire chemistry profile on analyzer ABC once per shift, how sure are we that every patient result generated for the next eight hours is reliable? Some of our confidence comes from studies done on that instrument, using those reagents. We know that statistically, even with the best instrumentation, we cannot absolutely guarantee 100% accuracy 100% of the time.
Over the years several advancements have been made that have helped to increase our confidence that our results are accurate, precise and reflect medically significant values. Technology has become more robust, with more internal checks and balances, reagents have increased sensitivity and specificity. The analytical measurement ranges (AMR) of most tests have increased; as has precision. Once again these factors help to make us more confident that time after time the result we receive is pretty close to the real thing.
It is because of all this progress that CLIA is introducing new QC standards using a protocol called the Individualized Quality Control Plan (IQCP). Why do we have to blindly follow the old 2 levels of controls with every run or every 8 hours if the state of the art is such that our systems have been proven over time to produce reliable results? Available as a voluntary option under CLIA, IQCP is designed to give labs greater flexibility in customizing their own QC program based on their particular environment.
The rub is that you cannot simply decide to move to IQCP, a system some might see as less demanding and less expensive. Your lab must do a risk assessment evaluation to study what QC regimen you can “get away with” under CMS regulations.
IQCP was launched in January of this year and labs that choose that option have been given 2 years to make the transition to IQCP and verify how their lab is operating under that option. IQCP applies to all non-waived testing, except Pathology. Labs will need to provide sufficient data to show a credible analysis/assessment was done.
Has your lab been contemplating IQCP? What have they done so far? How do you personally feel about IQCP?
The concept of Pay for performance (P4P) is based on the use of
incentives to encourage and reinforce the delivery of evidence-based clinical
practices in health care; with the goal of better outcomes.
As the cost of healthcare has skyrocketed, major payers have
adopted P4P as a way of curtailing costs while improving quality of care. The
theory is that if providers all adopt proven standardized methods of care,
patients will have better outcomes at overall reduced cost to the payers. As an
incentive, adherents of the P4P are paid more, while non-adherents are paid
Not only Medicare, but some commercial managed care plans as well,
now pay based on performance or outcomes. More commonly payers penalize providers
(usually through reduced payments) for not meeting certain set treatment guidelines. The
P4P movement is not new, but the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has a significant
pay for performance component as well.
Each year, Medicare looks at its total payment to providers
(doctors, hospitals, laboratories, for example) and tries to tweak their
payment schedule to reduce total cost to Medicare. The rate of hospital readmission is a target indicator
that is used to indicate suboptimal treatment or clinical relapse. Readmissions
are expensive so Medicare pays reduced reimbursement for readmitted patients.
Laboratory testing will continue to play a significant role in “proving”
whether a provider should be paid the full reimbursement, a bonus or be
penalized in some way. For 2015 there will be reduced payment for certain hospital
acquired conditions. Central line associated blood stream infections and
catheter-associated urinary tract infections will prompt reduced payment for
providers. In 2017 Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) infection
and Clostridium difficile infections will be added as criteria of performance.
Medicare also penalizes healthcare organizations that do not
report indicators like infections, falls,
pressure ulcers and the like in a timely fashion.
Many chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, hyperlipidemia,
hypertension and others will also incorporate regular laboratory tests as best
practices for their diagnosis and management. Not performing the correct tests, not testing
with the right frequency, or obtaining results that suggest non-adherence to
treatment will result in reduced payment.
While the laboratory might not be directly involved in selecting
these tests, it is important to know why they are being ordered. It is also
important to stand ready to manage utilization (over testing is costly and may
not be reimbursed) and the interpretation of test results.
to a recent press release, American Medical Technologists (AMT) has partnered with the American Kidney Fund (AKF) to foster and
promote collaborative work focusing on the role of allied health professionals
in the prevention and treatment of chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal
“Throughout the partnership, AMT will help raise awareness
of kidney disease through professional and public education and communications.
AMT will also raise funds to support the American Kidney Fund’s programs and
services” the statement reads. I hope other professional MLS organizations will
also get onboard.
is very good news and a logical partnership. Medical laboratory science plays a pivotal
role in the diagnosis and monitoring of renal disease, from impaired function to
chronic renal failure (CRF). Laboratory tests guide clinical decisions from pre to post renal transplant assessment
and monitoring. As professionals we ought to take a more active role in disease
prevention, management and education of the public.
requests to AMT to elaborate on the role they will play and specifically how
they will include/co-opt medical laboratorians have gone unanswered. However, according
to the press release AMT will play at least 2 roles-education and fund raising.
urge you to join this and similar efforts to contribute to the nation’s health
in a more public way while showcasing the expertise and social conscience of
medical laboratory science profession will be featured on the Leading
Edge, an award-winning program on public television that examines impactful
subjects and helps to educate the public about topics they might not otherwise
know about; or know very little about
glitzy, professional video prepared by ASCP does a great job of explaining the
MLS profession and highlighting the role medical laboratorians play in quality
healthcare. Especially encouraging is the fact that the speakers include not
only pathologists but medical scientists /medical technologists as well. Several times the script specifically references medical lab scientists and also makes
use of the much touted fact that more
than 70 percent of medical decisions depend directly on laboratory tests.
piece jointly produced by ASCP and the Leading Edge production team also
emphasizes that although not generally know most diseases have a component that
lends itself to the use of laboratory testing in diagnosis, treatment and
management. “Essentially 100 percent of the patients entering hospitals across
the United States today are dependent upon the work of the medical laboratory
team,” says one of the speakers, Lynnette G. Chakkaphak, MS, MT (ASCP).
is admitted that medical lab professionals have the expertise to weigh in
authoritatively on test utilization and interpretation.
is a well done piece that we can all be proud of. It is balanced, accurate and
professionally executed. It is slated to be broadcast on PBS sometime this month. Please
share this video and the information
about the upcoming program with your colleagues as well as friends and family.
the last blog we discussed a CDC survey addressing the difficulties many
providers face in ordering and interpreting laboratory tests. The providers admit to
having significant challenges in both ordering tests and interpreting laboratory test results. They
routinely seek help from various sources, with the laboratory being at the bottom of the
list. Further they agree laboratory consultation would be a logical adjunct in helping navigate the information maze, but
they don’t go that route for several reasons; none related to the ability or
expertise of the laboratory.
the area of test interpretation, physicians find the following most useful:
followup with patients face to face, review of patients’ histories and consulting e-references. Asked why labs fall way down on their list of consults, the
respondents indicate among other inconveniences of calling the lab is the long time it takes to
get someone on the phone who is able or willing to answer questions.
physician gave this example of I what he terms inefficiency, ” I called the lab to ask about
the swab needed for a particular culture I wanted to order. It took several
minutes before I got somebody in microbiology who knew what they were talking
about to give me an answer." He emphasized that doctors have very little time
to spare hanging on the phone or being transferred to several people to receive simple
physician pointed out that many physicians are not even aware that the lab
might have high-level resources to help them when they need it. Labs need to
make it known when they offer such services, he emphasized.
seems, therefore, like labs need to offer consultative services, make it known to
physicians that such services exist and also make the process more convenient
analysts discussed the use of information technology (IT) to automate certain
functions that would both facilitate consultation and force physician behavior
towards better utilization management.
in which IT could be useful include reflex testing, trending, interpretive
comments and physician order entry (POE) with electronic prompts (test definitions, suggestions,
soft stops and hard stops). These require medical staff leadership upfront but, once in place, can provide valuable education and help to manage behaviors basically on auto-pilot.
interesting concept discussed by co-author Paul Epner, a consultant interested
in the link between lab services and patient outcomes, is that of offering
trend reports of various providers. For example, IT can easily track and compare the
ordering practices of various providers. Do all cardiologists in a practice
order tests with the same frequency? Does one order CKMB while the others order
troponin? Does one physician order expensive reference tests which could be done on an outpatient basis? Who orders daily profiles when individual tests would suffice? Physicians can be pretty competitive and critical, so this type
of report can help in guiding test utilization as well.
laboratory should monitor physician calls: what do they want to know? What do
they seem to have most problems with? How fast does the lab resolve physician
concerns? Are resources available in terms of best-practices literature or an expert in the laboratory? These are always prime areas where stepping up and offering help would be appreciated and contribute to physician satisfaction as well as better patient care.
according to this survey, there is concrete proof that physicians do need our help, and would gladly consult with us. In fact
most would be grateful for our help. But we have to stay current in MLS to be comfortable providing factual information, we must be willing
to help, we must make it known to physicians that help exists, and we must respond to requests (or evidence of knowledge deficit) in a timely
manner. Since we are all busy, we should utilize automated aids when possible. In both the short and long term, IT is a powerful, but vastly
underutilized, arrow in our quiver.
anyone reads my writing knows I am a huge proponent of a more independent practice
model for Medical Laboratory Scientists (and MLTs to a degree). A component of
that model would be closer interaction with physicians and a willingness and
ability to consult with physicians offering advice and information on medical
when I make this bold assertion, I receive one of four reactions:
blank stare. What are you talking about?
am a tech, not a doctor. That suggests discomfort, lack of preparation or lack
is the one who went to medical school. This might be an unwillingness to use
valuable time “teaching” professionals who should already have that knowledge.
There might also be a willingness to give up information freely to someone who
would then use it without giving credit.
don’t need our help. This last one may be a combination of the above or simply incredulity that doctors
would “stoop” to asking for help in any way
studies crossed my desk in the past couple of weeks; both vindicating my
long-held viewpoint and in fact giving in objective terms when and how doctors
would need help from the laboratory.
The first study was
more of a survey conducted by the CDC’s Clinical Laboratory Integration into Healthcare
Collaborative (CLIHC). The survey
evolved from several focus groups conducted by CLIHC and sent to over 30,000 primary
care practitioners (PCPs). They had a 5.6 percent response rate, that is 1,768
PCPs responded (Journal of American Board of Family Medicine 2014; 27:268-74).
Of the findings, 2
struck me pretty significantly. Even though PCPs
see a large number of healthy patients including younger people and well adults, they
reported ordering laboratory tests in 31 percent of their patients. Further, they had
difficulty ordering tests and interpreting results in 15% and 8.3 percent of patients
respectively. Those percentages might seem small, but the authors of the study point
out that there are more than 300 million PCP visits in the US annually. That’s
a lot of patients potentially having the incorrect test ordered or results
To further place this in context,John Hickner, MD,
lead author of the study who is professor and head of clinical family medicine at University
of Chicago Medical School, said in Quality Improvement terms (e.g. LEAN) even a
1% error is unacceptable, yet this study shows a total error of over 20
percent. “This is a big problem,” Dr Hickner says.
Another huge area of
concern for doctors is the cost of tests. They receive pressure from hospital
administrators and patients to contain cost, but they have no idea how much different
So how do physicians
typically cope with knowledge gaps in these areas? They use e-references, refer
patients to specialists (you handle this!) or use curbside consults (John what
do you think of this patient's results?) Specifically asked about consulting
the laboratory they said that lab consults would be very valuable and would be
welcome. However they do not do it
because it is not offered. Despite the perceived lack of that option, an
optimistic and persistent 6 percent of doctors do still try to consult the lab, however.
I would welcome feedback
about your opinions on these findings and I will continue discussing the findings
of this important study. I will also describe the second (totally separate) study
I mentioned in my introduction. Some
questions to ponder: specifically why do physicians think lab consults are not
available? Do those intrepid souls who seek out the lab find the lab helpful? Do
they ever change their mind after speaking to a laboratorian?
We’ll discuss those
and other questions in my next two blogs.
the workforces ages we find many Baby
Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) are retiring and the workforce is increasingly
made up of younger individuals. The interesting thing about different generations
working together is that values and even work ethics will vary. Oldsters (Boomers
like myself) tend to assess younger workers as being sloppy, unprofessional and
reality, though, is that very often younger laboratorians and other workers
just don’t see themselves as “married” to a job the way Boomers are.They are
early adopters to technology and tend to eagerly welcome new “toys” in the lab
rather than see them as just additional instruments to learn, maintain and
generations tend to live by the axiom, “We work to live, not live to work.”
They realize they are very likely to have several jobs during their work life
and do not have unwavering loyalty to any one organization. But that does not
make them unprofessional slouches. In fact we raised many of them to be the independent individuals
- Generation X: Defined as the
generation born between 1965 and 1980, members of this group are more
likely than their predecessors to have been raised in single-parent
households or by two working parents. Having grown up playing video games
and using computers, they may see technology as allowing them to work
smarter and tend to use technology in daily life: to schedule, make goals,
tote files around, make presentations and communicate.
- Millennials: Born between 1981
and 2000, members of this group are also known as Generation Y or
Generation Next. As noted in a 2007 Pew Research report Millennials have been “shaped by an unprecedented
revolution in technology and dramatic events both at home and abroad.”
Gen Y is more diverse, racially and ethnically, than
previous generations and is often seen as being more tolerant on various
issues, the Pew report found. For Millennials, the line separating their work
life and leisure time may be less defined and they may be more likely to move
from one job to another with no qualms.
Generation Y individuals are much more likely to entertain and accept
divergent views and are less conformist. They might question rules and find it
logical to make exceptions to rules based on specific circumstances. They also
expect management to understand why the need for work-life balance might prevent them from
sacrificing for the good or convenience of the organization.
Whether you are the manager or peer of a member of an intergenerational
team, it helps if you are willing to accept certain realities without being too
judgmental of those not exactly like yourself. Different perspectives prevent the
stagnation of group think. So the “young ‘uns” may be different, but that also
means they offer different benefits, making the entire team stronger.
So, how do you cope with that Generation X or Millennial for the good of your laboratory? A University
of Notre Dame business school pamphlet offers the following suggestions.
- Value individual strengths: Lose the stereotypes that come with labeling groups of people.
Instead, maximize the potential of each member of your team by
understanding and appreciating his or her background, skills and goals.
- Provide training: It’s not enough
to simply assemble an intergenerational team and expect it to work
flawlessly and seamlessly. Provide awareness training and allow employees
to learn about their differences, as well as their similarities.
- Create partnerships: Establish
mentoring partnerships among the generations. For example, team a
tech-savvy Millennial with a baby boomer who values technology but needs
some hands-on training.
- Be flexible: Acknowledge and,
if possible, accommodate various work styles. That may include offering
flexible hours and work-from-home options. It might also involve catering
to different food and drink preferences in the company cafeteria, or
providing wireless connections for employees’ personal mobile devices or
charging stations for their electric vehicles.
If you follow these suggestions, what is generally perceived as an annoyance
and a negative can be turned into a huge benefit.
laboratorians we tend to be masters (and mistresses) of multitasking and
completing tasks. Ever wondered why we have so many checklists, worksheets and
forms? Computerization has simply moved some of that documentation to a new
so as scientists we do need to have checks and balances, we must document, we
must meet regulatory requirements. However too often we have become slaves of “always doing
something and writing it down.” We proudly use “if
it’s not documented it wasn’t done” as a mantra.
few years ago, I reviewed some point of care (POC) documentation on the nursing
floor of a hospital and found out that for an entire week, quality control was out on several tests,
yet the nurses performed patient testing daily anyway. The Director of Nursing
defended her nurses by saying her nurses followed the laboratory policy of “performing
QC daily.” It took several attempts to convince intelligent healthcare
providers that the laboratory did not simply want them to complete a task to be
checked off on a list. They had to go one step further and evaluate the each QC result
to make sure it was in range/acceptable; or troubleshoot and correct the
problem until the QC was in range. Then (and only then) should patient results
am not suggesting that any laboratorian would be guilty of such an act, but it does point out how task-obsessed we can be. We sometimes
have procedures or old practices that have long outlived their usefulness
and logic. I consulted for a laboratory that had worksheets for every test,
although some instruments were interfaced with the LIS. Other manual test results were
entered directly into the computer along with the QC result. Yet they had all these reams of manual worksheets. Asked why, the over-worked
staff responded in various ways: the state required it, it was a CAP standard, or
they needed to be able to pull monthly volumes of each test performed. As I
drilled down, one honest person finally admitted, “We have always done it that way so I
don’t want to be the one to break the pattern, just in case.” Just
in case of what?
lab I know of has a policy that requires that 5 different "licensed individuals" check blood for transfusion: an MT/MLS rechecks the phlebotomist, another
MLS verifies the correct units are documented and tagged, an RN (not even an LPN)
signs out the blood at the blood bank with an MLS, and then cross checks the unit with another RN before the blood
is hung. That sounds pretty safe, but it
is a very labor intensive process. Worse it does not do what it purports to do.
Supposing the phlebotomist draws the wrong patient (that’s not checked),
suppose the first MLS tags the wrong unit of blood (the second MLS visually
verifies the blood type and unit numbers not the actual crossmatch), the nurse
signing out the blood again does the same thing (just verifies the numbers in
the sign-out log matches the units in her hand. The nurses hanging the blood
cannot verify that was in fact the patient the phlebotomist drew. So a long, complicated
process with lots of paper and several signatures does not always ensure quality.
of quality assurance should be to examine processes on a regular basis to see
what purpose they actually serve: clinical, quality, regulatory, financial, or something
else. Can you get volumes or data from the computer instead of hanging on to a
manual 15 year old worksheet for example? Could you simplify that bloodbank process while ensuring greater greater patient safety?
as well as regulatory agencies like CAP constantly revisit issues like the need
to run QC: how many levels and how frequently. What documents need to be maintained
and for how long? Is any process causing undue hardship, eating up too much
staff time and is too labor intensive?
we try to reduce costs, do more with less and try to bring some relief to an
older, tired and overworked workforce, we need to re-examine processes for
redundancy. If you cannot give a valid reason related to patient care, quality,
regulatory or financial requirement, then rethink that process you are hanging on so tenaciously. Even processes that
need to be continued still need to be examined to see if they can be revamped
or streamlined in some way. Some processes can be discontinued, modified or documented in
simpler ways or via an electronic format (versus paper).
a worklist to complete or because we have always done it this way are no longer
valid reasons for retaining and perpetuating those long-standing process.
overutilization of laboratory tests continues to be the bane of laboratory and
hospital management. Overutilization is troublesome for several reasons, of
-Laboratory professionals are frustrated
by clear misuse of tests and sometimes needless repitition of previously
performed tests e.g. daily profiles or repeat of send out tests before the
original are on the chart
-Hospital management are acutely aware that
overutilization increases costs. Organizations that receive a per diem rate
from Medicare or a managed care policy, for example, are just eating into their
profit margin with every service (including laboratory test) that they perform.
patients are not discharged as scheduled in order to perform additional tests or to
wait for test results. Some tests are not necessary; others are important but
can be performed on an outpatient basis.
-Physicians do not benefit from
overutilization because they have to address any abnormal results that turn up
during the process. They also are under pressure from administration to keep
costs down and to discharge patients ASAP.
-Patients are inconvenienced and suffer
discomfort when subjected to frequent lab draws, and they may have a heightened
sense of anxiety while waiting for “yet another test result.” They do not always
understand why a result will vary from day to day and worry needlessly.. One
cause of idiopathic anemia is frequent blood draws while in the hospital.
what is a laboratory to do? Since physicians drive test ordering it is
important to get physician input and to co-opt physician champions to tackle
the problem. If you have a strong, knowledgeable pathologist that helps. But
even absent such a person, it is possible for the laboratory to gather
information regarding the points raised above and also refer liberally to independent sources describing best
practices in laboratory utilization.
method that a few laboratories have adopted successfully is the use of formularies
similar to drug formularies. It is a common concept that just about every hospital
pharmacy has a formulary of “acceptable and available medications.” Physicians
must pick from that list. Any deviation must be approved by a committee-or at
least be honored only after detailed justification and documentation.
information technology folks play a significant role in forcing physicians to
stick to formularies. If they try to order an off formulary drug-or even an
off-label drug available in the formulary- they may receive a soft stop or a hard
stop in the computer system.
same concept can be used for laboratory testing. If a physician orders some
tests (no longer available, inappropriate, very complex, very costly, ordered too
frequently for that patient) they can receive the same hard or soft stop.
Either the test is not allowed at all, or the ordering physician needs further documentation
and approval in order to have that test done.
is very likely (as happens in pharmacy with off-formulary and off-label use of
medication) that some physicians will protest, be slow adopters or will call the
laboratory directly for an explanation of rationale; or even to over-ride the
hard stop. They will pull rank and try to be exempt from the rule. Pharmacists
are very adept at fielding such calls. In order for laboratory formularies to
work it is important for laboratorians to be equally knowledgeable and confident
when speaking to possibly frustrated and aggressive physicians.
today’s climate of high cost, innovative operational methods and
overutilization of lab tests that this is an approach worth pursuing.
most recent Ebola Virus outbreak has made the national news. This
highly contagious virus of the family Filoviridae,
genus Ebolavirus causes a hemorrhagic illness that approaches 90 percent mortality.
This latest episode
in West Africa has claimed
the lives of over 600 people, but has made the news largely because it is the worst-ever
outbreak in history and two Americans have been infected.
been asking me: What is Ebola exactly? Why is it so deadly? How is it spread?
Are we at risk here in the USA?
While not an
expert in virology or epidemiology, I take that imposed educational role seriously. I
keep up to date as a scientist, interested in disease and health. I give basic,
factual information when asked and then refer friends to credible sources like the CDC
website. I also vet popular news sites and endorse links that give current updates, explain Ebola, summarize aspects of epidemiology, and discuss risk in a sober yet non-alarmist way.
curious: what role do you think medical laboratorians should play in educating
friends and family? What do you do? Are
you less interested if the “disease du jour” is affecting only unknown people
from faraway places and poses little risk to the US?
recently saw a discussion on a Medical Laboratory page on a popular social networking
site. Someone started off a thread detailing an encounter with a nurse in which
a request was made that was so ludicrous it was funny. Others weighed in with
accounts of their personal experiences: mostly questions or requests from
nursing based on ignorance of laboratory procedures and interpretation of results.
This sort of story-telling is a favorite pastime of medical
laboratorians as we know.
made a brief comment indicating that we needed to project ourselves more as
knowledgeable professionals and less as “passive technicians” who followed
orders mindlessly and offered no opinions at all. Sadly, one person took umbrage
to my use of the term "technician" and accused me of belittling the role of MLTs such as herself.
This is despite the clear context and even the blatant hint that “technician” was
in quotes, indicating I was quoting someone else’s words.
and others on the healthcare team often refer to medical laboratorians at any
level as ”the lab” or “technicians” and suggest implicitly and, sometimes explicitly,
that as members of the ancillary staff we do not have much to offer in terms of
independent thought or knowledge. This is clearly not true and I am bothered
when we buy into this interpretation and passively (there is that term again)
stand by and let others wallow in their ignorance or persist in their
misconception of who we are.
is sad we can muster up lots of whining, sense of self-victimization,
hypersensitivity and criticism of each other while we passively let others
misjudge and undervalue us and the contribution we make to the patient care. More than our ego is at stake. When we are not fully utilized, patient care suffers as well.
of the profession at every level- phlebotomist, MLT, MLS, specialist, pathologist- are all
valuable and each has a unique body of knowledge from which they can draw and
enlighten those who do not know. I have many friends who are physicians and
they almost unanimously appreciate when I enlighten them about the proper
selection, use and interpretation of laboratory tests. They are always
surprised when I speak about our education or detail processes that explain turnaround
time, how reference intervals are derived, quality control and the like. Am I unique in that regard? I refuse
to believe that. Clinicians need and welcome our help, but we often do not give it. Instead we roll our eyes and joke among ourselves.
someone calls us “technicians” as a way of relegating us to a vague inferior
class of button pushers we do not have to accept it. Our energy should be
directed at undoing that perception and not internalizing that label. It should
certainly not be squandered on attacking those who work tirelessly to advance the
profession. That is misdirected energy.
“stupid” question or request, each term of denigration is an opportunity to
teach and to demonstrate that you are more than a “technician.”
I do not often repeat posts, blog or articles. However I have received several requests for a repost of this blog. One kind reader from Massachusets wrote, "That is the singular most emotional call I have read in a while. Please reprint on July 4th. Do not just refer to it give a link. Please reprint it so when anyone logs on they will see it on the front page of the ADVANCE blogs."
Well, for that kind reader and others, less effusive but still requesting a reprint, here goes:
On July 4, 1776 the United States declared
independence from Britain and a vigorous new democracy was born. This year we
celebrate our 236th birthday and our founding fathers are probably sputtering
in wonderment, “Who knew this experiment in democracy would be so successful?”
When American patriots chose to defy King,
Crown, a powerful power structure, and even history itself, the conventional
wisdom was that the fledgling movement could not survive. There was little more
than a deep desire to be free, a belief in the power of determination and the
shared aspiration to be independent.
Independence is a scary thought. Whether it is a country, a profession, an
organization or an individual, the status quo can be safe because it represents
a known quantity. One learns how to cope with the expected; it is the
unexpected that presents the greatest challenges. Psychologists describe this
as the “better the devil you know” phenomenon and posit that it explains why
even victims of horrendous treatment will opt to remain in what might seem to
everyone to be an obviously untenable situation.
not that our forefathers had all the answers, or were imbued with extraordinary
strength and courage; it is simply that their desire for a better life
superseded their fear. As executives in healthcare, beholden to so many masters
and powerbrokers, we are often tentative about moving beyond our fears.
As a profession, we obsess about how we are
beholden to pathologists, the government, regulatory agencies and other
healthcare professionals. How can we deny the "reality" that we are
negatively impacted and held back by so many?
One consideration often overlooked is the
very preoccupation with the “reality” prevents us from changing it and moving
forward. What would be the result if we chose not to be subservient or subject
to the whims and fancies of others? The strong likelihood is we would be closer
to our dream of a vibrant, independent, proud profession. The worst case
scenario is we would be where we are right now.
Personally and professionally, individually
and as a profession, I wish you a Happy Independence.
am sure you have all heard the lament, “He/she just does not know how to talk
to people.” As team members laboratorians have to interact with each other and
convey information not only to fellow laboratorians (peers and supervisors) but
to their customers outside the lab as well.
especially brand new managers, just promoted from the bench, might find it
challenging or awkward to have those difficult conversations where someone (possibly
a former peer) has to be counseled or told unpleasant news. Supervisors also
have to arbitrate conflict among co-workers. They also represent the lab to
outsiders and have an extra responsibility to present a professional, conciliatory
matter the nature of the conversation, some very simple rules can help. EAP
Resources, an Atlanta firm providing Employee Assistance Programs to various
organizations, offers some very simple conversation tips.
Use the other person's name from time to time during the talking, such as, “I
agree with you, Betty, and will support your proposal.” Our names are precious
to us and nearly everyone has a feel-good experience when being addressed by
name. “Gary, would you call me tomorrow with the quote?”
Instead of asking general questions such as, “How's it going?” ask specific
personal questions like, “How does your son like dental school?” Being specific
shows that you remember details about matters important to the other person,
such as the family, special interests, and certain individual challenges.
Routine and general questions usually elicit only routine responses like, “Fine
Lighten up the talk with a smile. Even with serious topics, a friendly smile
can be appropriate and can add a measure of good will that is helpful in
advancing understanding. Being overly-serious tends to suppress feelings and
makes the tone of our conversation seem flat and aloof. Relax, drop your
shoulders and breathe.
Respect people's time for talking so that you don't hold them hostage. If
you're uncertain ask, “Do you have a few minutes to talk now?” This is
especially useful for telephone conversations, or even for someone in the lab
who may be busy trying to complete a time-limited task. Work with their schedule.
Give the other party their turn to talk. You can do this by talking in
paragraphs, not chapters, and then signaling it's their turn with a question
like, “What are your thoughts?” Do not talk over the other person or even answer
questions before the questioner has finished asking.
When you're with someone, give your full attention. The gift of your presence
and attention is quietly powerful and strengthens relationships. Fully engaged
listening is rare in our multi-tasking worlds of work and home. When you listen,
just listen. Don't wander. Even
constantly averted eyes or “got to take this call” interruptions can break the
mood, cause interruption in flow and be perceived as a lack of interest-or
End your conversation gracefully and not abruptly. When appropriate, thank or
compliment the other person when you are ending. “I really enjoyed talking with
you and understand the situation much better now. Thanks a lot.”
If possible, recap what you heard and
set a time for follow-up. “So, Bella you are suggesting working 32 hours on weekends
and being off an extra day during the week? I will look at the schedule you
created and get back to you by next Wednesday or Thursday. Thanks for being
creative and please feel free to let me know if you have any other ideas.”
little things add a quality of civility and care to any conversation.
Ultimately, they mean a lot because your attitudes tend to be reciprocated. Some
individuals just simply have a knack for easy conversation; others don’t. If you make an effort to incorporate certain
phrases and to follow some simple rules you will be rewarded with a much more
harmonious and effective workplace.
business school my marketing professor was fond of saying, “Marketing is
everything.” It was tempting to see this view as the opinion of an overzealous
marketer who was trying to convince students of the need to create complex and
obtuse business/marketing plans. But as I
continued the course, and long after graduation I realized that to a degree he
was right. Marketing is used in several aspects of our lives.
at the news: some politician with whom we disagree or who appears to be
unpopular sweeps the race with a landslide victory. Companies create a brand that we instantly
recognize through a slogan or even a diagram (think of the Golden Arches or the
logo of an apple with a bite taken out of it). Celebrities who do something
obnoxious or spout off in a politically incorrect way often hire high-priced fixers
to rehabilitate their image. That is all marketing. Marketing can be used for
or against your cause and is often based on the strength of the marketing
campaign rather than on any objective measure of accuracy or reality.
does this have to do with medical laboratory science? Well, I think as a
profession we too often pitch and perpetuate a negative marketing campaign
against ourselves. When an “old-timer”
tells an enthusiastic new graduate or intern how horrible this profession is,
that’s marketing. If someone who has been around for years states that, given a
choice, they would have chosen another profession, advises the graduate to
pursue another vocation and keeps up a mantra of how burnt out they are, what
effect do you think that is having both on the youngster and on other’s
perception of our profession?
often outside the lab, administrators and other members of the healthcare team
refer to us in inaccurate ways. They might call us “technicians,” mischaracterize
the work we do, minimize our value or even re-state some negative association.
We do not have to agree with them; but if we let it slide, we are engaging in a
negative marketing campaign against ourselves.
observers think everyone in a white coat is a “lab technician” with equal
expertise and scope of practice, the lab is always losing specimens, every
delay in the ED is due to waiting for lab results, and doctors send specimens
to a black hole where machines automatically regurgitate results-with no input
from a thinking human being. How many times have we heard this line of thinking
and sat silently by while it is repeated ad nauseum?
in healthcare are called by their names: nurses, doctors, physical therapists,
pharmacists. But we are generically “the lab”, a room in the basement. Until
recently our week in April was called “Lab Week” with no mention of the
professionals who actually practice the profession. I never use the misleading term, Lab
Week, for that very reason.
someone talks about a great hospital experience in my presence or on my
Facebook page and thanks all the doctors and nurses, I jokingly say, "Thank
all the medical laboratory scientists providing the information used to
diagnose and treat the patient. And, thanks to the doctors, nurses and others as
well.” I am only partially joking when I reframe the statement; I am practicing
deliberate marketing that makes people think a little.
my smart-alecky comment elicits dead silence, sometimes a chuckle, but very
often it starts a conversation where I can educate-and yes, market, our
profession. We are all marketers, broadcasting a message. Choose your message