Don’t Bother the Blood Bank Tech!
We have a sign in our lab that says Do Not Talk To the Blood Bank Technologist. It reminds us all of the nature and danger of distractions in our work: beepers, timers, telephones, instrument alarms, sensor alarms, doorbells, personal issues, and (not least of all) conversations. The only distraction a blood bank tech should be concerned with is an abnormal reaction.
When I was a kid riding the bus our driver had a similar sign on his visor, right below the mirror used to eyeball us. Same idea. Distractions can be dangerous, especially in familiar tasks that can have a critical outcome if they fail. One winter morning I glanced up as our bus driver swerved around a gangly moose in our headlights. Yikes!
Back to the lab. Part of developing a professional work ethic is recognizing personal limits and tolerances for distractions. Since laboratory medicine involves juggling several to many tasks at once, the latter is a job requirement. However, everyone has different tolerances. One tech may feel comfortable answering the telephone in the middle of a crossmatch, while another may not. In my experience, tolerance is part nature, part nurture. We can learn habits to recover our place, in other words, but only to a point.
For example, in reading tube tests for macroscopic agglutination using a viewer, I have always shaken the tube, written down the reaction, and then double checked the visual evidence in my mind. Did I really see the “smoky tail” of a negative? Did that really look like a 2+ with small agglutinins and a clear background? Any interruption or uncertainty means repeating the sequence.
Any interruption in any sequence like this, from checking patient identification to aliquoting samples to reading reactions to instrument maintenance is potentially dangerous. It’s easier to focus on real time events or those that have just happened than recreating what we think is happening. All good techs develop personal habits in time that minimize disruptive effects of inevitable distractions.
Sometimes, we even talk to ourselves. I wonder if that’s Ok in blood bank.
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