History and Characteristics of Generations

History plays a significant part in the development of any person; we are changed and altered by big historical events that take place during our life time. Understanding history is therefore an essential aspect of understanding people, communities, cultures, and generations.

The oldest generation living today is the GI Generation. This generation was born between circa 1901-1926 and have gone through significant changes in life and work environments during their lifetimes. The term GI Generation stems from the fact that a lot of soldiers from both WWI and WWII came from this generation. This generation came of age during the First World War and the Great Depression and most grew up without electricity, refrigerators, and credit cards.

The Traditionalist Generation was born around 1927-1945, so during the Great Depression and at the end of WWII. This is the era of pre-feminism, so women generally stayed at home to raise children. If women had jobs, it was typically until they were married and in professions such as secretary, nurse, and teacher.

This started to change during the next generation, the Baby Boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964. The timeframe for this generation is so large that there are essentially two main groups: the revolutionaries from the ‘60s and ‘70s and the yuppies of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Women began working outside the home in record numbers, which created double-income households. Divorce also became more accepted and people starting buying things on credit.

The following generation is Generation X, who are born circa 1965-1980. Because most of their parents both worked, this generation is known as the “latch-key kids”, because they would walk home after school themselves as both their parents were working or divorced. This generation experienced the transition to digital knowledge, but remembers a time without computers.

The Millennial Generation, also known as Generation Y, was born around 1981-2000. This generation grew up in a world of technology and they have experiences some significant technological advances, which typically are very natural to them. They also grew up with enormous academic pressure and also the notion that you might not be save at school due to school shootings.

The newest generation is Generation Z who are born after 2001. People born during this time have never known a world without cell phones or computer and they are very technological savvy. Growing up during the great recession of the late 2000s, Z’ers feel unsettled and a level of professional insecurity.

The events mentioned above are all focused on events that took place in the United States of America, with some worldwide events included. To understand generations from other countries, it is important to learn about important historical events that occurred, while there are also some events that overlap. For instance, internet and cell phone are more widely available worldwide and there might be some similarities across nations in terms of the effect on generational understanding.

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.


 

The GI generation experienced events that impacted their assertive characteristics. If you know someone in this generation, they probably worked until they couldn’t work anymore instead of retiring. This work ethic comes from growing up during the deprivation of the Great Depression and are often referred to as the “Greatest Generation.” This term was coined by the NBC Nightly News anchor, Tom Brokaw in his book by the same name.

The Traditionalist generation are, well, traditional.  The value old-time morals, safety, security and may try your patience, especially in the work place. They are still working and act as the historians of the organization and/or the family because they have been there for a long time. You still might see them serve on Board of Directors and are Presidents because of their organizational knowledge and expertise. They are also known as the Silent Generation for an interesting reason.  It was this generation that coined the phrase, “Children are to be seen, and not heard!”

Did you know there are two groups of Baby Boomers?  The first group was born between 1946 and 1964.  They are often called the “Leading-edge Boomers.”  Those born between 1955 and 1964 are often called the “Shadow Boomers or Generation Jones.” The Baby Boomers are the largest generation in the US today, but they are slowly overpowered by the Millennial Generation. The have a team-oriented attitude and take their self-worth from their job. They are driven and optimistic and are often willing to learn how to use technology, but it takes a process as it doesn’t come as natural to them as to younger generations.

The Generation X are often referred to as the “middle child.”  This generation is street smart because most grew up in homes where both parents worked or were divorced. They started school without computers, but are experienced with them. They change careers often and are independent, flexible, and can easily adapt to new circumstances. They have an entrepreneurial spirit.

The Millennial Generation is our fastest growing generation in the U.S. workforce. They are the most diverse and are also known as the “Echo Boomers, Millenials, or Generation Y. Millenials understand the world of technology and it comes natural to them. They are resilient, optimistic, and creative because they experienced enormous academic pressure. They are very focused on professional development and to learn and improve what they do.

Generation Z is just starting to enter the workforce and they are independent, open-minded, and determined. They also have an entrepreneurial spirit, like Generation X, and they are loyal and compassionate. This emerging generation will be our new teachers because their minds work in so many directions because of their technology skills and aptitude.

It is easy to see how working with multiple generations in one department offers a full range of experiences, work styles, ideas, as well as, challenges. How can you improve the generational diversity of your personal or professional life?

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-Catherine Stakenas, MA, is the Senior Director of Organizational Leadership and Development and Performance Management at ASCP. She is certified in the use and interpretation of 28 self-assessment instruments and has designed and taught masters and doctoral level students.  

 

 

Lab Week 2018

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Labs: the final frontier. These are the voyages of lab-techs everywhere. Our continuing mission: to explore strange new orders, to seek out new tests and new sero-preparations, to boldly notify floor clinicians about sample hemolysis for redraw…

Or at least that’s close enough to Gene Roddenberry’s vision for futurism in exploration—except instead of starships, we’re talking Star Labs. Happy 2018 Lab Week everybody, and thanks for checking back in!

Okay, so here’s something a little bit different. Different from my usual Zika or medical school posts, this piece is a celebration of several lab “truths” which I know many of us share. It seems like one of the overarching themes I’ve encountered regarding laboratory operation (and appreciation) is communication. Expectations and needs aren’t always communicated effectively across different medical disciplines and scopes. A while back I thought of 40 things every lab professional should know, but I’d like to expand on that a bit.

How many times have you said or encountered any of the following:

  • Why does the blue top have to be full, if the other ones weren’t as full?
  • I just put some blood from the lavender top into the tiger top—patient is a hard stick…
  • I’m checking on results for the patient in room 123…no, I don’t have their MRN…
  • There’s a trauma patient coming in via helicopter, I need crossmatched units before they’re here.
  • Can you please add on a serum lactic acid, there was a BMP from yesterday?
  • This C. Diff sample is solid…
  • Why are some hospitals’ rapid flu-tests done with just the swab of a swab kit, a little aliquot of saline from an IV push syringe, and a wasted no gel SST?
  • Are the results ready for the biopsy we did just now?
  • Do we have a critical value range for ESR?
  • We haven’t had an in-service on running POCT Glucose controls, so we haven’t done them yet
  • I didn’t want the tubes to leak in transit, so I used the labels as tape to keep the caps on!
  • In order to get SUPER GOLD STAR STROKE AND GOUT CENTER accreditation, we have to slash TATs by 40%

 

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Captain Hematologist Jean Luc Picard (front) pleads with a clinician that only wants the WBC and H/H from a clotted CBC. Second Officer Riker (bottom left) smiles because he knows clots are dangerous for most analyzers. Lt. Operations Officer Worf (top right) agrees firmly for the sake of honor and quality assurance. An ensign trains on urinalysis (top left). [Source: Star Trek TNG]
I’m sure by now you realize I could go on, and on, and on…There are always issues in laboratory medicine that don’t always translate well between floor clinicians and laboratory staff. It’s a tale as old as time. And, until we do develop universal translator technology, it will remain somewhat of a barrier to improving workflow. So how to we fix it? I argue it starts with Lab Week.

Lab Week is supposed to celebrate the clinicians, laboratory professionals, and ancillary staff that work diligently to produce results. Hundreds of thousands of laboratorians work throughout the country and are highly-trained, well educated professionals who use their expertise to diagnose and monitor treatments. Quality medical testing and exceptional care are part of the core values that each of us are celebrated for every year in April! Let me be clear, we are not support services for other clinical professionals—we’re all on the same team. Don’t be angered by the misinformed questions above, or by the stereotypes you might encounter in pathology, try and use them as teaching platforms within our community.

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Capt. Hematologist Jean Luc Picard (right) takes endorsement from Chief Instrument Engineer Geordi LaForge (left) and while examining active Laboratory Data (center) speaks with clinical staff regarding temporary procedural changes for sending and holding PTT mixing studies while maintenance is being completed.  [Source: Star Trek TNG]
The whole point is that we’re in this together. Not just interdisciplinary teamwork that makes this year’s Star Lab theme so poignant, but teamwork across scopes. Those calls and messages we get in our managers’ offices or various bench top phones are part of our team too. It’s about the patients. We already know we contribute over 70% of clinical relevant information in every patient’s chart—some diagnoses like cancer rely completely on pathologist interpretation for screening, diagnosis, staging, and treatment recommendations.

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While EMH Drs. Mark I and Mark II receive their “bad” results, it’s all part of a larger picture. As a note, “panic results” rarely illicit the expected reaction in the nurses and physicians we report them to. These doctors would think our current medical practice standards medieval, anyway… [Source: Star Trek Voyager]
Here are a few examples of effective communication you could keep in mind.

For any Laboratory Professionals reading:

  • Instead of this: “Our policy is to reject clotted CBCs, we need a redraw, sorry.”
  • Try this: “While policy says to reject clotted CBCs, it’s not just because it could affect your PLT count. Other cell counts may be affected, and micro-clots can jam up the sensitive lines in the analyzers shutting them down for a while and affecting other patients’ results.” Try and realize that clinicians really do rely on those results! First and foremost, many clinical decisions are made on that last pending result for the next step of treatment. Whether it’s a PLT count or an acetone level, every result matters.
  • Instead of: “Room numbers aren’t adequate for patient and sample identification, sorry.”
  • Try this: “Because room numbers can change so quickly, we can’t use them to properly identify a specimen or patient. Do you have any of the following information…?” Understand that doctors, nurses, etc. aren’t always calling the laboratory from a private area. Thus, with so many people walking around a medical unit, a name might not be an option for them to use—room numbers are a sort of code for HIPAA compliance.

For any Clinicians reading:

  • Instead of this: “I really need you to rush that type and cross, quickly.”
  • Try this: “What can I do to help facilitate quicker turn-around for getting these units available for my patient?” Not only will you have started a conversation with the bench tech working on crossmatches, but you’ll demonstrate awareness of the complex process of safety/reportability blood bank goes through. Understand that Blood Bank is one of the more highly regulated aspects of laboratory medicine; FDA guidelines treat blood products as both a controlled substance and a tissue transplant, effectively.
  • Instead of this: “You have to run these samples because the patient is a hard stick.”
  • Try this: “What would be the minimum amount sufficient to run a particular test?” and if you need more information, simply ask! You’d be surprised how much the lab scientist on the phone would know about a particular testing method. Understand that QNS guidelines for specimens are not arbitrary amounts for the sake of covering repeats or mistakes in analysis. They are there to ensure quality results based on research and efficacy for a given instrument or method.

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We all get angry. Especially at work, when our labs might be understaffed, overloaded, and dealing with instrument failures or evil advanced genetically modified arch-nemeses on the floors like Laboratory Manager Capt. Kirk (pictured). [Source: Star Trek the Wrath of Khan]
So, it’s okay to get frustrated. It’s human. But I’ve got to tell you, I have been on both sides of this now—as a laboratorian and a clinician—and what I see time after time are simple gaps in communication. If we want to get better, not just for us, but for our patients, we should play an active part in helping close that gap.

I gave a few examples above, but how do we really change anything? My answer: interdisciplinary collaboration—and that’s not just a buzz word from my finishing LMU! If we want to really change anything, we should start it. If you’re a bench tech, start a discussion with your senior staff, supervisors, and managers about what you feel could be improved. If you’re a manager, seek out those barriers and be an active advocate for your staff—you’re already an advocate for the lab. If you’re a clinical pathologist, coordinate with your colleagues on the floor, develop more relationships, reach out for more than just consults on sign-outs.

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Don’t be afraid to be a voice for change. Staff meetings, in-services, and self-aware improvement can be facilitated with good leadership, organization, and clear goals! Even if things look grim and you’re on downtime with a full ER, or stuck in the middle of a volatile asteroid field, noted barriers to improved communication will always GET RESULTS. [Source: Star Trek TNG]
Want to change the knowledge gaps between clinical staff and laboratory staff? Hold an in-service or distribute messages with the missing information. When I was at Northwestern Medicine’s Blood Bank, I was an instructor once a month for nursing staff regarding blood products and transfusion protocols. We walked through the process with new nurses from proper phlebotomy and labeling, to order sets, to transfusion, to dealing with transfusion reactions. It was excellent! It was a great time to answer many questions and also gain insight into the clinical side of transfusion medicine.

Want to make sure no more sideways or crooked labels get sent to your specimen receiving stations? Instead of relying on the shear number of rejections to speak for themselves, discuss policy changes with your management, find the barriers to this change of specimen labeling, even send flyers out with “best dressed” tube images—it’s worked, I’ve seen it!

Want to make sure pathology stereotypes aren’t continued into the future? Change them! I plan to! Everyday I think of new ways to facilitate a new model of inclusion for pathologists into clinical healthcare teams. They’re an integral member already, why not reach past that tumor board, or biopsy report?

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It takes a village to run a lab, or a space station. An interdisciplinary team is the only way healthcare can continue to improve. Shapeshifting flexibility, shrewd business deals, passion for quality assurance, creative license, and scientific knowledge are only as good as the teamwork they are a part of—even if you have religious emissaries on your staff. Sharing knowledge and effective communication are critical for labs, clinicians, and our patients. [Source: Star Trek DS9]
The bottom line: if laboratorians want to grow and advance into the changing fronts within healthcare, we should take this opportunity during Lab Week 2018 and really embrace our profession as part of an interdisciplinary team. We deliver exceptional care and advocate for patients through our quality work in detecting, reporting, and preventing illnesses. I recommended laboratory professionals become more actively involved with fellow clinicians to directly improve patient outcomes. Let’s teach, let’s change policies, let’s have interdisciplinary rounds, let’s have roundtable discussions, let’s advocate together.

Because, after all, aren’t we advocating for the same thing: our patients.

Thank you! See you next time, and Happy Lab Week!

 

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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.

Blood Bank Case Study: Transfusion Transmitted Malaria

Case Study

A 26 year old African American female with sickle cell anemia presented to a New York emergency room with cough, chest pain, fever and shortness of breath. Laboratory results showed an increased white blood cell count, slightly decreased platelet count and a hemoglobin of 6.2 g/dl. Her reticulocyte count was 7%, considerably below her baseline of 13%. Consulting the patient’s medical records revealed history of stroke as a child and subsequent treatment with chronic blood transfusions. She was admitted to the hospital for acute chest syndrome and aplastic crisis and care was transferred to her hematologist. Two units of RBCs were ordered for transfusion.

The blood bank technologists checked the patient’s blood bank history and noted her blood type was A, Rh(D) positive, with a history of a warm autoantibody and anti-E. The current blood bank sample confirmed the patient was blood type A, RH(D) positive with a negative DAT but the antibody screen was positive. Anti-E was identified. Per request of the hematologist, phenotypically similar units were found and the patient was transfused with 2 units of A RH(negative), C/E/K negative, HgS negative, irradiated blood. The patient’s hemoglobin rose to 8g/dl and she was discharged from the hospital 3 days after transfusion.

Ten days after discharge the patient returned to the emergency room with symptoms including aching muscles, fever and chills. A delayed transfusion reaction was suspected. A type and screen was immediately sent to the blood bank. The post transfusion type and screen remained positive for anti-E, DAT was negative. No additional antibodies were identified. However, a CBC sent to the lab at the same time revealed malarial parasites on the peripheral smear. The patient was consulted for a more complete medical history and reported that she had never traveled outside of the country. A pathology review was ordered and the patient was started on treatment for Plasmodium falciparum.

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Discussion

Red Blood cell transfusions can be life saving for patients with sickle cells anemia. These patients are frequently transfused by either simple transfusion of red cell units or by exchange transfusion. Because of this, alloimmunization is reported to occur in 20% to 40% of sickle cell patients.1 Blood bank technologists are very diligent in adhering to strict procedures and follow a standard of practice aimed to prevent transfusion reactions. While preventing immune transfusion reactions may be the most forefront in our minds when transfusing the alloimmunized patient, it is important to consider transfusion transmitted diseases as a potential complication of blood transfusions.

Malaria is caused by a red blood cell parasite of any of the Plasmodium species. Mosquito transmitted infection is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Transfusion-transmitted malaria is an accidental Plasmodium infection caused by a blood transfusion from a malaria infected donor to a recipient.

Donors, especially those from malarial endemic countries who may have partial immunity, may have very low subclinical levels of Plasmodium in their blood for years. Even these very low levels of parasites are sufficient to transmit malaria to a recipient of a blood donation. Though very rare, transfusion-transmitted malaria remains a serious concern for transfusion recipients. These transfusion-transmitted malaria cases can cause high percent parisitemia because the transfused blood releases malarial parasites directly into the recipient’s blood stream.

Blood is considered a medication in the United States, and, as such, is closely regulated by the FDA. Blood banks test a sample of blood from each donation to identify any potential infectious agents. Blood donations in the US are carefully screened for 8 infectious diseases, but malaria remains one infectious disease for which there is no FDA-approved screening test available. For this reason, screening is accomplished solely by donor questioning.2 A donor is deferred from donating if they have had possible exposure to malaria or have had a malarial infection. Deferral is 12 months after travel to an endemic region, and 3 years after living in an endemic region. In addition, a donor is deferred from donating for 3 years after recovering from malaria. It is important, therefore, for careful screening to take place by questionnaire and in person, to make sure that the potential donor understands and responds appropriately to questions concerning travel and past infection.

Malaria was eliminated from the United States in the early 1950’s. Currently, about 1700 cases of malaria are reported in the US each year, almost all of them in recent travelers to endemic areas. From 1963-2015, there have been 97 cases of accidental transfusion-transmitted malaria reported in the United States. The estimated incidence of transfusion-transmitted malaria is less than 1 case in 1 million units.4 Approximately two thirds of these cases could have been prevented if the implicated donors had been deferred according to the above established guidelines.3 While the risk of catching a virus or any other blood-borne infection from a blood transfusion is very low, a blood supply with zero risk of transmitting infectious disease may be unattainable. With that being said, the blood supply in the United Sates today is the safest it has ever been and continues to become safer as screening tests are added and improved. Careful screening of donors according to the recommended exclusion guidelines remains the best way to prevent transfusion-transmitted malaria.

References

  1. LabQ, Clinical laboratory 2014 No.8, Transfusion Medicine. Jeanne E. Hendrickson, MD, Christopher Tormey, MD, Department of Laboratory Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine
  2. Technical Manual, editor Mark K. Fung-18th edition, AABB. 2014. P 201-202
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/facts.html. Accessed April 2018
  4. The New England Journal of Medicine. Transfusion-Transmitted Malaria in the United States from 1963 through 1999. Mary Mungai, MD, Gary Tegtmeier, Ph.D., Mary Chamberland, M.D., M.P.H., June 28, 2001. Accessed April 2018
  5. Malaria Journal. A systematic review of transfusion-transmitted malaria in non-endemic areas. 2018; 17: 36. Published online 2018 Jan 16. doi: 1186/s12936-018-2181-0. Accessed April 2018
  6. http://www.aabb.org/advocacy/regulatorygovernment/donoreligibility/malaria/Pages/default.aspx

 

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-Becky Socha, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM BB CM graduated from Merrimack College in N. Andover, Massachusetts with a BS in Medical Technology and completed her MS in Clinical Laboratory Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She has worked as a Medical Technologist for over 30 years. She’s worked in all areas of the clinical laboratory, but has a special interest in Hematology and Blood Banking. When she’s not busy being a mad scientist, she can be found outside riding her bicycle.

Is It Possible to Have Coexistence of Hepatitis B Surface Antigen and Antibody?

Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) is the serologic hallmark of acute Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. It can be detected in serum using immunoassays a few weeks after HBV infection, and normally disappears after 4-6 months in recovered patients (1). Antibodies against HBsAg (anti-HBs) appears as a response from the host immune system, and these antibodies neutralize HBV infectivity and clear circulating HBsAg (2). Anti-HBs generally persist in life, indicating recovery and immunity from HBV infection.

Some of us may simply assume that the presence of anti-HBs should always associated with the loss of HBsAg. However, it is possible to see concurrent anti-HBs and HBsAg in patients. In fact, coexistence of HBsAg and anti-HBs is not rare, and has been reported in 10 to 25 percent of HBV chronic carriers in previous studies (3-4).  The underlying mechanism is not fully understood but several reports explained it as HBsAg mutants escaping the immune system (2-4). HBsAg mutants are believed to arise under the selective pressure from the host immune system, or from vaccinations (4-6).

“a” determinant in HBsAg is one of the main target of anti-HBs. It has been reported that mutations in the “a” determinant of the surface gene (S-gene) result in amino acid substitutions in HBsAg, and reduce the binding of anti-HBs to HBsAg, leading to immune escape (4). The first HBV mutant was reported by Zanetti et al in 1988 as G145R mutation. In their report, infants born to HBsAg carrier mothers developed breakthrough infections despite receiving HBIG and HBV vaccine at birth (5). Since this report, several other HBsAg mutations have been reported (4, 6).

Currently, there is no easily available assay to diagnose individuals who are suspected of harboring HBsAg escape mutants. Moreover, mutated HBsAg may leads to false negativity in some serologic assays, leading to a missed diagnosis of chronic HBV infection (6). Another concern is the potential risk of transmission to others, as vaccination does not provide protection from these mutated viruses (8); this is especially important in liver transplant recipient and newborns from HBsAg positive mothers.

References

  1. Lok A, Esteban R, Mitty J. Hepatitis B virus: Screening and diagnosis. UpToDate. Retrieved Feb 2018 from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/hepatitis-b-virus-screening-and-diagnosis#H3
  2. Liu W, Hu T, Wang X, Chen Y, Huang M, Yuan C, Guan M. Coexistence of hepatitis B surface antigen and anti-HBs in Chinese chronic hepatitis B virus patients relating to genotype C and mutations in the S and P gene reverse transcriptase region. Arch Virol 2012;157:627–34.
  3. Colson P, Borentain P, Motte A, Henry M, Moal V, Botta-Fridlund D, Tamalet C, Gérolami R. Clinical and virological significance of the co-existence of HBsAg and anti-HBs antibodies in hepatitis B chronic carriers. Virology 2007;367:30–40.
  4. Lada O, Benhamou Y, Poynard T, Thibault V. Coexistence of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBs Ag) and anti-HBs antibodies in chronic hepatitis B virus carriers: influence of “a” determinant variants. J Virol. 2006 Mar;80(6):2968-75.
  5. Zanetti AR, Tanzi E, Manzillo G, Maio G, Sbreglia C, Caporaso N, Thomas H, Zuckerman AJ. Hepatitis B variant in Europe. 1988 Nov 12; 2(8620):1132-3.
  6. Leong J, Lin D, Nguyen M. Hepatitis B surface antigen escape mutations: Indications for initiation of antiviral therapy revisited. World J Clin Cases 2016;4:71.
  7. Colson P, Borentain P, Motte A, Henry M, Moal V, Botta-Fridlund D, Tamalet C, Gérolami R. Clinical and virological significance of the co-existence of HBsAg and anti-HBs antibodies in hepatitis B chronic carriers. 2007;367:30–40.
  8. Thakur V, Kazim S, Guptan R, Hasnain S, Bartholomeusz A, Malhotra V, Sarin S. Transmission of G145R mutant of HBV to an unrelated contact. J Med Virol 2005;76:40–6.

 

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-Xin Yi, PhD, DABCC, FACB, is a board-certified clinical chemist, currently serving as the Co-director of Clinical Chemistry at Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, TX and an Assistant Professor of Clinical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Critical Care, Critical Labs

Sepsis is a medical emergency and a global public health concern. The Surviving Sepsis Campaign started in 2012 and has since issued International Guidelines for Management of Sepsis and Septic Shock. These Guidelines have been updated several times, and the 4th edition of the 2016 guideline have been issued. The Guidelines are written from the perspective of developed (“resource-rich”) countries, where critical care settings are equipped with tools for managing these patients. Yet, the developing world carries the greatest burden of sepsis-related mortality. Unfortunately, the developing world lacks access to many of the necessary tools for managing the critically ill patient – including basic laboratory testing.

Laboratory values are a significant part of the management of the septic patient. Take a look at the sepsis screening tool. Analytes and lab tests included in screening patients for sepsis include: lactate, creatinine, bilirubin, INR, and blood gases. The Surviving Sepsis bundles require a lactate concentration within 3 hours of presentation, and a subsequent lactate within 6 hours. The care bundle also requires a blood culture within 3 hours of presentation and prior to administration of antibiotics. Early-goal directed therapy for sepsis requires administration of crystalloid based on lactate concentrations. Basics of laboratories in the US, lactate and blood cultures are both difficult to obtain and far from routine in the resource-poor care settings.

Blood gases and lactate are particularly difficult to find and to maintain in the developing world. While there are a number of point-of-care or small benchtop devices – like the iStat (Abbott), the Piccolo (Abaxis), and the Stat Profile pHOx (Nova), it is often cost-prohibitive to maintain these devices.  The iStat and the Piccolo are examples of cartridge-based devices. All of the chemistry takes place in single-use cartridges and the device itself is basically a timer. In my experience, cartridge based devices hold up in environmental extremes better than open reagent systems. However, they are not cheap and this can be prohibitive. Cost of a single cartridge can range from $3-10 USD. In countries where patients and their families are expected to pay upfront or as they go for even inpatient medical care, and the income for a family is $2USD/day, routine monitoring of blood gases and lactate by cartridge is just not feasible. Reagent based devices like the Stat Profile use cartons of reagent for many uses. This is much cheaper – if all the reagent is used before it expires! Some healthcare settings can accommodate only 1-3 critical patients, and might not be able to use a whole carton before the expiry, even when adhering to Surviving Sepsis guidelines.

Blood cultures and subsequent treatment with appropriate antibiotics is a large part of the surviving sepsis campaign. Microbiology in the developing world is often limited to a few reference laboratories in country. Also, the number of potential infectious agents is larger in the developing world where diseases like malaria and dengue fever are common. Multiplexed nucleic acid tests might fill the gap here. Again, the cost is a major factor. Just reagents alone for a single multiplexed NAT can be over $250 USD.

In short, if the surviving sepsis guidelines really do help decrease sepsis mortality, the developing world doesn’t have a chance unless it has a greater laboratory capacity. Basic labs that we don’t think twice about can be very hard to come by in resource-poor environments. The tests already exist in forms that can be used in resource-poor settings – they just need to be cheaper, at least for those in limited resource settings. Are you listening, Abbott?

 

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Sarah Riley, PhD, DABCC, is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Pathology and Immunology at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. She is passionate about bringing the lab out of the basement and into the forefront of global health.  

A Serious Aside

As an unscheduled post, I’d like to make a quick side note separate from public health, zika, and medical school. You may have seen a post I wrote last January about the potential stereotypes and stigmas we might face in laboratory medicine. But, just because we as laboratory professionals operate behind-the-scenes most of the time, we’re still healthcare professionals—and clinician burnout can affect any of us.

I recently watched a video of Dr. Zubin Damania, also known as “ZDoggMD,” a primary care physician and founder of Turntable Health in Las Vegas. He’s a brilliant and passionate doctor with great opinions and an even greater creative sense of humor. Among his many parodies, and “rounds” Q&A questions, ZDoggMD recently had a guest on one of his Facebook shows called “Against Medical Advice” to address the serious issue of suicide and depression in medicine. Janae Sharp was the guest on this episode speaking about her husband, John, a physician fresh into his residency who committed suicide. They go on to talk about her life after this tragedy and how if flipped her and their children’s’ lives upside down. Janae’s described John as a father, a writer, a musician, an idealist, who always wanted to become a doctor. My interest was definitely piqued by this—I tend not to miss most of Dr. Damania’s content—and this is something I’ve been hearing more and more about as my path through medical school continues. But, at one point in the interview my heart just stopped: John was a clinical pathologist. Too close to home, for me at least. I was admittedly surprised.

Pathologist’s don’t have that much stress to make depression and suicide part of that life, I thought. But that is a cold hard assumption. Depression affects so many people at large, and when you’re in healthcare it almost seems like a risk factor on top of issues one might be struggling with. Med school is touted as one of the hardest intellectually, physically, and emotionally grueling experiences you could go through—I will personally vouch for Dr. John and Dr. Damania’s statements about how much these experiences push you to your limits. No sleep, no recognition, no support, fear of failure, imposter syndrome, a wealth and breadth of knowledge that makes you feel like you’re drowning—not to mention that if you do ask for help you’re immediately “lesser” for doing so.

Video 1. ZDoggMD interviews Janae Sharp about her tragic loss, her husband John’s suicide, and the rampant problem of depression and burnout in medicine. Against Medical Advice, Dr. Damania.

Last month, I was fortunate enough to attend a grand rounds session at my current hospital about this very topic. Presented by Dr. Elisabeth Poorman, internal medicine attending physician, and clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, who talked about how (because of stigmas) medical trainees don’t get the help they need. She demonstrated that prior to med school students are pretty much on-par with their peers with regard to depression. However, once medical school starts, those peers all plummet together as depression rates rise and fall dramatically throughout the various stages of their careers. (I’m just going to go ahead and vouch for this too.) Dr. Poorman shared several case studies that effectively conveyed just how hard it can be when it seems like you are a source of help for many, but no one is there to help you. Story and story recounted the same model of apparent—and often secretive—burnout which ultimately led to a decrease in the quality of care, and in some instances suicide. Dr. Poorman was also brave enough to share her own story. No stranger to depression, herself, it was something that she encountered first hand. She connected herself with this increasingly difficult picture of inadequate support for those of us spending our lives serving others.

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Figure 1. Dr. Poorman’s data reveals that depression rates for medical school classmates in a cohort generally rise and fall as their duties and responsibilities change during their career trajectory. I’m currently on the slope downward between the first 1-3 years of school’s peak and the 4th year trough.

There are clear problems facing those of us in healthcare jobs. An ironic consequence, however, of modern scientific advancement is the “doubling time” of medical knowledge. While not necessarily a problem, this refers to the amount, depth, and scope of knowledge physicians and medical scientists are expected to master in order to effectively treat, make critical clinical decisions, and educate our patients. While in 1980 it took 7 years for all medical knowledge to double in volume, it only took 3.5 years in 2010, and in 2020 it’s expected to double every 73 days!1. The problems come as a result of this knowledge because more data means more to do. More time on the computer, higher critical responsibility, and less time to focus on your own mental health all lend themselves to a cyclic trap of burnout. Physicians commit suicide at a rate of 1.5 – 2.3 times higher than the average population.1

Physicians, nurses, clinical scientists, lab techs, administrators, phlebotomists, PCTs—we’re all over worked, under-supported, fall victim to emotional fatigue, and have some of the highest rates for depression, substance abuse, PTSD, and suicide.1 Sometimes, reports from Medscape or other entities will report that burnout is a phenomenon of specialty, hypothesizing that critical nature specialties have more depression than lesser ones2 (the assumption that a trauma surgeon might burn out before a hematopathologist). But truthfully, this is just part of the landscape for all providers. A May 2017 Medscape piece wrote “33% chose professional help, 27% self-care, 14% self-destructive behaviors, 10% nothing, 6% changed jobs, 5% self-prescribed medication, 4% other, 1% pray.”3

So I’m talking about this. To get your attention. So that people reading know they’re not alone. So that  people with friends going through something can lend a hand. I’m talking about this. ZDoggMD is talking about this. Jamie Katuna, another prolific medical student advocate, is talking about this. Dr. Elisabeth Poorman is talking about this. This is definitely something we should come together to address and ultimately solve.

What will you do to help?

This was a heavy topic. So in a lighter spirit, I have to share this with all of my laboratory family. If you haven’t heard or seen Dr. Damania’s videos yet, this is the one for you:

Thanks! See you next time!

References

  1. Poorman, Elisabeth. “The Stigma We Live In: Why medical trainees don’t get the mental health care they need.” Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard Medical School. Grand rounds presentation, Feb 2018. Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, New York, NY.
  2. Larkin, Mailynn. “Physician burnout takes a toll on U.S. patients.” Reuters. January 2018. Link: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-physicians-burnout/physician-burnout-takes-a-toll-on-u-s-patients-idUSKBN1F621U
  3. Wible, Pamela L. “Doctors and Depression: Suffering in Silence.” Medscape. May, 2017. Link: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/879379

 

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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.