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Tag: Medical Laboratory Professionals Week

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Bringing you clinical lab features, news, and updates via the WSLH PT Blog! If you are interested in receiving an email digest of news along with curated staff picks from around the internet, sign up for WSLH PT’s monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever.

Enhancing The Role of Lab Professionals In Patient Care

Every year during Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, we are reminded that 70 percent of “today’s medical decisions depend on laboratory test results.” Medical Laboratory Professionals get the results that make an impact on patient care. How lab test results are interpreted is another story that does not often appear in discussions surrounding this statistic. Having more discussions on the interpretations of lab test results is an issue occupying the foremost concern and attention for many laboratory professionals. Such an issue has certainly received more focus with the release of key reports in professional journals and their coverage by industry media within the past 7 years. In response to the Institute of Medicine’s 2015 report Improving Diagnosis in Health Care, everything from doctoral programs to informational, on-the-job handouts, have been produced to address the interpretation of results with the following solution: enhance the role of the clinical laboratorian on the patient care team. Enhancing the role of clinical laboratorians, with the knowledge, skills, and abilities that they bring, is vital in providing the most informed diagnosis. The kind of problem-solving strategies developed to enhance our role demonstrates that education is at the core of the solution, educating ourselves and educating our colleagues outside of the lab. The solutions that manifest always result in a more highly collaborative team of healthcare professionals.

In 2015, the Institute of Medicine released a report, Improving Diagnosis in Health Care, stating that diagnostic errors affect 5% of US adults seeking outpatient care each year, and contribute to approximately 10% of patient deaths and 6% to 17% of hospital adverse events. The report indicated that diagnostic errors cause patient harm, and attributed the statistical occurrences to a gap in communication between physicians and laboratory professionals.  Increasing intentional collaboration is required in order to close the gap, and, ultimately improve the diagnostic process, the report concluded. Not long before the release of this report, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Clinical Laboratory Integration into Healthcare Collaborative (CLIHC) conducted a survey to determine the strategies necessary to address this gap in communication. In the survey, family and general internal medicine physicians reported uncertainty in ordering diagnostic tests in 14.7% of patient encounters and 8.3% uncertainty in interpreting results. The survey also found that only 6% of the physicians surveyed consult laboratory professionals at least once a week or daily. In fact, this was the least frequently reported approach to discerning what test to order and how to interpret the test results. Those 6% who did contact laboratory professionals indicated that it was in response to “confusing ordering options on the computer/electronic medical record” or, “when the lab results do not match the patient symptoms.”   It is clear from these statistics that uniting the laboratory with direct patient care is a key component in improving the diagnostic process.

How do we work together to minimize the occurrence of misdiagnosis? Researchers, educators, and others in the field know that the role of the laboratory professional and the knowledge of laboratory science is a vital component on healthcare teams to improve diagnosis. According to the February 2017 issue of Laboratory Medicine, “Some laboratory professionals have become an important member of the clinical team by providing interpretive comments, developing reflex testing programs, and participating on multidisciplinary and diagnostic management teams.” Certainly the creation of the Doctorate in Clinical Laboratory Science (DCLS) program within the past decade has enhanced the role of clinical laboratory scientists on diagnostic management teams (DMTs) today.

Brandy Gunsolus, DCLS, MLS (ASCP)CM, was the first graduate of a DCLS program, graduating from Rutgers University in May 2018. Gunsolus documented her training and her thoughts from the field as a DMT leader in her blog, The Road To DCLS. Here she frequently writes about what many laboratory professionals wonder: what kinds of questions do physicians ask her? She answers that some of those questions may be highly complex, requiring more training on the part of lab staff. However, she says she also answers many questions that “virtually every medical laboratory professional should be able to answer.” Regardless of your official job title in the lab, Gunsolus emphasizes the importance of obtaining CEUs, as they are “essential to us staying current in our profession.” There are excellent online CEUs as well as those offered in-person conferences, like those offered at the ASCLS Joint Annual Meeting. Regarding online resources, WSLH Proficiency Testing, in partnership with the University of Washington’s Medical Training Solutions (MTS), offers customizable online training and competency courses to help labs achieve professional development goals.

“Education is always the key!” Gunsolus says on the importance of including laboratory professionals on healthcare teams. “We must educate ourselves and educate our other healthcare professionals if we are ever going to improve our profession and our patient’s care and safety.”

A brief and compelling look at a few key statistics give us a helpful snapshot of the current climate of laboratory and patient care staff relations. A deeper look at what is being done today will further demonstrate that healthcare teams must work with and include laboratory professionals in order to improve and maintain accurate and reliable patient diagnoses.  Stories of today’s clinical lab trailblazers like provide a unique vantage point regarding what is required to develop mutually-informed, highly collaborative diagnostic teams. Education is required, and takes a two-pronged approach: 1) Educate Others: Include laboratory staff as knowledge-sharers and team members in patient care delivery, and 2) Educate Yourself: Strive to obtain CEUs regularly, and find other professional development opportunities to stay current.  Enhancing the role of the clinical laboratorian in the diagnostic process and on patient care teams will, in turn, greatly impact our visibility to the public as a healthcare professional and as a viable career choice. Laboratory professionals get results each and every day. In honor of your important contributions to healthcare, WSLH Proficiency Testing would like to take this moment to thank each and every one of you for all you do to make a difference.

This article is featured in our monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever. Sign up to receive your digest of clinical lab news, memes, and more:

WSLH PT Blog

Bringing you clinical lab features, news, and updates via the WSLH PT Blog! If you are interested in receiving an email digest of news along with curated staff picks from around the internet, sign up for WSLH PT’s monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever.

The Future of the Medical Laboratory Professions

We’ve all likely heard the statistic: 70% of medical decisions are based on laboratory diagnostics. During Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, aka “Lab Week” we are reminded of this and other ways we make meaningful impact in patient care. It’s a week of celebration, but also a week to heighten the visibility of our careers, as much of the public is still not as aware of our profession and our contribution to patient care. With the onset of a global pandemic, many members of our professional community indicate Phlebotomists, Medical Technologists, and Technicians have gained significant visibility as media outlets cover the COVID-19 testing efforts. Last year, the New York Times published an article about the stresses medical laboratory professionals face, including many personal stories of long hours, sleepless nights and lack of social interaction with the demands of increased testing exacerbating pre-pandemic issues, such as staffing shortages. Never before has the public had such an in-depth look at the word of medical laboratories. In this article, educators and scientists speak to the importance of increasing meaningful visibility in the media and in classrooms in order to help attract and grow a pool of qualified talent in medical laboratories.

Michelle Schulfer, Clinical Coordinator and Senior Lecturer for Clinical Laboratory Science at the UW-Stevens Point, says while there is some increased visibility in the media due in part to the pandemic, there’s a lot of missed opportunity to give the people featured in the B-roll footage of the local news an identity. Often Michelle will be watching the nightly news report on the latest testing efforts at the local hospital and spot some of her former students in the broadcast. Occasionally, the station will air a clip of one of the reporters talking with the hospital’s lab manager, who is also a former student of Michelle’s.

“I think to myself, ‘tell the reporters who you are and what you all do!’ People know about doctors and nurses, but they do not know our name as medical laboratory professionals. People need to hear our profession name and what we do, so they can aspire to it,” said Michelle.

Such missed opportunities in the midst of ongoing staffing shortages could be alleviated by a deeper public focus in the news media. “We are doing great things. It’s important to give our work an identity,” adds Michelle. She also addressed the importance of the stories, nuances, and opportunities that exist for both Medical Laboratory Scientists and Medical Laboratory Technician. Leah Narans, Program Director of Medical Technician and Phlebotomy Programs at Madison College, agrees and discussed the importance of word-of-mouth outreach, including strategies such as inviting Medical Technologists and Technicians to talk with grade schools about what they do, whether it’s part of a science unit or career learning opportunity.

“It’s important to reach out and connect with high school counselors and give them a name for what we do,” Leah Narans says. “Again, it’s all about the name.” Before the pandemic hit last year, Leah Narans spoke with 60 high school counselors. In the meeting, Leah discussed the 2-year program at Madison College, where students are getting certified, getting 100% job placement, and then getting tuition reimbursement if they decide to go on and get their Bachelor’s Degree and their Master’s Degree to become a Medical Lab Scientist or Lab Manager. “Their eyes nearly exploded with amazement when I told them,” said Leah. “They had no idea what to expect!”

As educators work to increase enrollment in medical laboratory science education programs, they discuss the urgency of their work given other external factors that are both within and beyond the scope of the pandemic. One factor that Michelle and Leah both discuss is the possible “retirement bubble,” that may further widen during the course of the pandemic. According to the Medical Laboratory Observer’s 2020 Annual Salary Survey report, 45% of all medical laboratory professionals have a minimum of 20 years’ experience, with 31% having 25 or more years of experience.

Only 23% have 5 years or less of experience. At the same time, medical laboratory sciences can expect a lot of job market growth in the coming years.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall job outlook for Medical Laboratory Scientists and Technicians is solid, expecting to grow 13% between 2019 and 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. The government attributes this growth in part to the aging population, leading to additional diagnostic testing. According to a survey report in the May 2018 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Pathology, this data “strongly suggested the crucial need in the supply of qualified and certified laboratory personnel.” With a “retirement bubble” potentially on the horizon and there being a growing need for lab qualified and certified professionals, recruitment and retention of students in accredited Medical Laboratory Science programs is key.

In a recent “Inside the Lab” podcast episode produced by ASCP, three educators discussed the educational recruitment and retention strategies and resources available to them to address this issue. Strategies shared included implementing more practical lab experience for high school students and inviting Medical Laboratory Professionals to teach a special lesson to students, during a unit on blood, for example. The podcast also highlights resources that ASCP offers to assist with such strategies—ASCP’s Patient Champions curriculum that can be incorporated into lessons and ASCP’s Career Ambassador’s program, which encourages Medical Laboratory Professionals to share their passion for their careers with students, and how they can make a difference as a Medical Laboratory Scientist or Medical Laboratory Technician.

Laura Schreiber, Microbiology Proficiency Testing Coordinator for WSLH Proficiency Testing, says “I would want to show students how exciting it is to get to read about a new test that could make a great impact, and then getting to perform such a test in the lab a few years later. Being a part of a rapidly changing field where I am learning something new all of the time is very fulfilling.”

Laura worked on the bench for years (and still does part-time), before deciding to pursue her current position as a coordinator for a proficiency testing provider. She adds that while both jobs comes with its challenges, her love for her jobs both on and off the bench to improve laboratory quality outweighs the rest. She said she does not take for granted the love she has for her work as a Medical Laboratory Scientist.

Laura was a few years out of college, working in a different field, when she realized her career wasn’t fulfilling. She saw how happy her Mom seemed in her career as a Medical Laboratory Scientist, and wanted to capture that same career fulfillment. She was inspired to follow her Mom’s path, while forging her own as a Medical Laboratory Scientist specialized in Microbiology.

“I always loved Microbiology as a kid,” said Laura. “Having dedicated teachers and people in my life who supported my curiosity and interest in Microbiology made all the difference.”

Stories like Laura’s are important to tell, so that other individuals aspiring to make a difference in their careers can see what is possible. As the need for qualified medical laboratory professionals grow, educators will work to increase the number of graduates to fill vacancies in the laboratory. For those of us in the lab full-time, we can amplify such strategies by providing virtual (and eventually in-person) shadowing opportunities, classroom visits, and story sharing. Sharing our journey and our passion as medical laboratory professionals not only during Medical Professionals Lab Week but year-round will help grow the time and talent we need to maintain a happier, more sustainable workforce and laboratory quality, overall.

This article is featured in our monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever. Sign up to receive your digest of clinical lab news, memes, and more: