Patients and Patience

Holiday season is around the corner! And, as such, I’d like to take this opportunity to share a few thoughts I have on how our professional scope as laboratorians extends all the way from the bench to the dinner table.

How many times have you been asked by friends and family what it is exactly you “do” at work? And how many times have you done your best to explain, being met with references to unrealistic television shows or generalizations that go beyond your scope of practice? It’s happened to me a million times. It’s the nature of our laboratory culture. It’s a vital role in patient outcomes, but often behind the scenes. But just for a moment, let’s say you get beyond those surface explanations—what happens next? Probably, in most cases, not much.

One of the main tenets of the ASCP mission which we all work together is advocacy: for our communities, our institutions, our teams, and our patients. More often than not I would bet that family members venture into that turnpike, mostly as patients. When a grandparent, uncle, sister, or friend says they’ve got an upcoming procedure or test, how many of us would share our knowledge with him or her? I know I would. Not in a way that goes beyond our scopes as phlebotomists, medical laboratory scientists, or cytotechnologists, or medical students, or pathologists—but as someone who wants to empower their loved one to be the most informed and prepared patient they can be. In 2012, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) promoted their campaign “Questions to Ask Your Doctor.” In it, they cite that good health depends on good communication and that patients should not be afraid to ask their physician questions about their health outcomes. You remember, the commercials with the guy at the cell phone store that asked a hundred free train-of-thought questions but was speechless in front of his doctor…I loved those.

In that same holiday spirit that celebrates thankfulness, family, and relationships, let’s include laboratory professionals! If you have a loved one who it applies to, explain just what happens after those six different colored tubes were drawn, explain how that removed mole was set, sectioned, and reviewed, explain how staining different cells in a body fluid give a clinician important data about their health. Hundreds of thousands of laboratory professionals in the United States could offer not just invaluable information to their friends and family, but peace of mind. Demystifying the medical process might make those patience more confident in asking informed questions and, together with their provider, improve their health outcomes.

I find myself in an interesting position today. Having years of explaining what CBCs or CMPs actually measure and why someone might have to fast before a lipid panel, I’ve started a slow transition to learning how to explain what that means to an individual’s health. What a fantastic foundation lab medicine gave me to build on! (Really a recurring theme you’ll see in lots of my posts.) By moving from what different stains mean to a clinician, I am now on a path toward being able to use that information for the next step in professional scope: diagnosis and management.

Just like I’m on this academic and professional journey, lots of us are on a path through or toward something. But back to our ASCP message, advocacy for patients means recognizing their journey—especially when they’re our family and friends. The best outcomes for any patients rely on valuable information, communication, and rapport. And while you help your loved ones through the steps of their journey as a patient you might empower them to be a more involved member of their healthcare team. As a result, they might experience more personal and effective care. And a bonus just for us: maybe more people would appreciate some behind the scenes lab medicine. Who knows?

So, from me and mine to you and yours, have a great holiday season and a wonderful new year! I’ll return with stories, cases, and commentary on medical school clinicals in January!

Take care and thanks for reading!



Constantine E. Kanakis MSc, MLS (ASCP)CM graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BS in Molecular Biology and Bioethics and then Rush University with an MS in Medical Laboratory Science. He is currently a medical student at the American University of the Caribbean and actively involved with local public health.

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