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Embracing Point of Care

Published July 15, 2016 6:20 AM by Scott Warner

For an industry that is frequently at the forefront of new technology in healthcare, laboratory workers can be among the most resistant to change. Computers coexist with paper; manual diffs are still done when automated counts are far superior; point of care technology is disdained as inferior to central lab testing.

But point of care testing is coming into its own. Indeed, as hinted at in a recent Advance article, microfluidics will bring the core laboratory to the patient. Investors are shelling out big bucks for this idea of “lab on a chip” that will make the current crop of glucose meters look as outdated as 1980’s cordless phones. Our world is changing rapidly.

This doesn’t sound like good news for an industry already on the ropes with centralized testing, testing formularies, labor shortages, and demands for faster, cheaper testing. What will happen? I wonder.

Traditionally laboratory professionals have been leery of point of care testing, because non-laboratorians don’t understand the technology or how values are verified. If I ask a lab tech, “How do you know that glucose is accurate?” I will get a detailed response: the QC is within peer-defined limits, the last calibration is acceptable, the other patients I have run meet a statistical norm, etc. If I ask I person expected to do point of care testing - such as an RN - how he or she knows a glucose is accurate, I’ll probably get a less specific response.

But that’s no reason for a lab not to embrace point of care. As point of care testing becomes simpler and more foolproof, laboratories should step up to the plate and make sure they are there to enhance services and improve patient care. This change is inevitable as technology advances.

“Foolproof” is a misnomer as we all know just like a zero-maintenance analyzer. Errors are often subtle, and an understanding of what affect results is necessary to produce quality results. It’s what separates laboratory training from all others. Who better to shepard in a new era of technology?

The lab is unique in that it provides technology useful in point of care. We likewise have a unique opportunity to educate, encourage, and engage others in what we do. This isn’t easy, but it is inevitable. How easy has this been in your lab? I wonder. There are considerable cultural barriers between the evidence-based focus of laboratories and the support-based focus on other departments.

Has your lab embraced point of care testing? If so, are you an active partner with doctors and nurses or is it a necessary evil brought about by affordable technology?

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posted by Scott Warner
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About this Blog


    Scott Warner, MLT(ASCP)
    Occupation: Laboratory Manager
    Setting: Critical Access Hospital
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