It’s not every day, but most days it seems like I’m “putting out a fire”…. or two. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. Four people called in sick and now you’re extremely short staffed, your automated instrument just broke and now you have to process everything manually, you just found out that product X is contaminated and patient care could be jeopardized; the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, not everyone is prepared for crisis. This is a problem because poor crisis management can result in harm to the organization, its stakeholders (patients, clinicians, vendors, staff, employees), or its reputation. A major threat to good crisis management is poor communication. You can prepare a great plan, but if your plan is not communicated well/properly, then your crisis could turn into a major disaster.
Without proper communication, operational response can break down, which can cause a significant delay in crisis resolution (1). The financial and/or reputational effect becomes more severe the longer it takes to resolve an issue. Additionally, poor communication can cause your stakeholders to react in a negative way, such as get angry, become confused, or perceive your operation/department as incompetent, or even worse- negligent.
Anticipate the crisis. Having a plan in place can really save the day. When planning, your team should consider pre-analytical, analytical, and post-analytical risk. To some extent, analytical risk assessments should already be in place as they are required for individualized quality control plan (IQCP). The IQCP assesses specimen, test system, reagent, environmental, and testing personnel risks (2).
Identifying a communication team can help to ensure that your crisis management plan is communicated properly. The communication team should be trained on the policies and crisis management plan. Make sure that staff and leadership know who the members of the crisis communication team are, so that when a crisis does occur everyone knows who to turn to or where to look for information.
Establish a crisis notification system. Most hospitals have notification systems, but does your laboratory or department have an established notification system? Depending on the situation you will need to contact different groups of people. Having a list prepared ahead of time eliminates forgetting to communicate to a particular group or individual in the heat of the moment. Pagers, phone numbers, addresses, text messages, emails. Make sure all information is easy to access and up-to-date.
Assess the crisis situation. Ask questions. Make sure you have all the appropriate information before reacting. Our gut reaction is to act fast, which is usually a good thing, but not to the detriment of your crisis management plan. Keep calm and carry on.
Perform a post-crisis analysis. After the crisis is resolved (not too long after), it is important to review the event and determine if the process was a success. Document lessons learned; key steps to keep and areas of improvement.
The laboratory is like a box of chocolates- you never know what you’re going to get….so it’s best to be prepared. Organizational response to crisis should include a good communication plan. Lastly, don’t forget to test you plan and make sure it works.
-Raquel Martinez, PhD, D(ABMM), was named an ASCP 40 Under Forty TOP FIVE honoree for 2017. She is one of two System Directors of Clinical and Molecular Microbiology at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania. Her research interests focus on infectious disease diagnostics, specifically rapid molecular technologies for the detection of bloodstream and respiratory virus infections, and antimicrobial resistance, with the overall goal to improve patient outcomes.