One Part Interpreter

I’m thoroughly convinced that in order to change laboratory information systems (LIS) and get the new LIS to work correctly you need a mixture of one part laboratory professional, one part information technology (IT) specialist, and one part interpreter. Add together and then vortex vigorously.

The laboratory professional is a given. It is absolutely necessary to have a person or people who understand the lab tests inside and out, from linear range to reference intervals to instrument capabilities to antibiotic susceptibilities to type and cross-match. There must be people with an understanding of how the tests work and what type of information is needed in order to ensure that when a test result appears in the electronic medical record for the doctor to see, it is an accurate result that makes sense and is interpretable.

The IT specialist is also a given. This person or people must completely understand not only how to program the system, but what type of programming is possible – what the computer system is capable of doing – or not doing. Being currently immersed in changing LIS systems at my institution, I have come to appreciate more and more how these two individual types must be able to communicate with each other and work together to design and implement an LIS that is functional for everyone.

Which brings us to the “interpreter”. Sometimes IT and lab people simply don’t speak the same language. I know I sometimes feel as though the IT people have begun speaking in tongues. I’m occasionally amused by the totally blank looks on the faces around me, and no doubt on my own. Thus what a project like this requires is a facile communicator with enough knowledge of both the lab and the programming to successfully interpret between the experts. I’m calling this person an “interpreter”, but calling him/her a communicator would be just as accurate.

In my institution the interpreter role is most frequently filled by laboratory technologists who have gone over to the Dark Side, otherwise known as Information Technology. Much as I hate to lose them as medical laboratory scientists, they are pretty nearly worth their weight in gold as interpreters when changing LIS systems. To continue the analogy, without their input in the mix, the vigorous vortexing necessary often results in an emulsion, not a smooth mixture. The finished product may not function as desired simply because the programmer did not understand what was needed, or the laboratory professional did not understand the inherent capabilities of the LIS.

With any luck, we have enough interpreters in our mix to end up with a functional LIS we can all live with. I know the current meetings are going as smoothly as they are due to these people’s work.



-Patti Jones PhD, DABCC, FACB, is the Clinical Director of the Chemistry and Metabolic Disease Laboratories at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, TX and a Professor of Pathology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.


One thought on “One Part Interpreter”

  1. Great article about the communication issues between the IT and laboratory professionals. A lot of things can get lost in translation and the ‘speak’ is something we have definitely had to work on. To add a third component, we often have to translate a 3rd time directly to the Doctors who use our labs in a completely secondary ‘speak’.

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