Succession Planning

You have found yourself as a supervisor/manager ready to take the next step in your career. A position has become open for which you have been waiting and preparing. You get to the interview and then the question you weren’t prepared for comes: “With you stepping into this new role, who amongst your staff will be ready to step into your current role?” Is this possible? With all of your hard work you forgot one of the most important details about you moving on: succession planning. We have all heard it before but it can and will be a limiting factor to your success in your career. Executive management looks for people that can mentor the next in line for when it is your time to claim another rung on the career ladder. A CEO once told me in an interview, “Your moving up in any company is limited by how successful you are in finding and mentoring the people that will follow behind you.”

As a laboratory supervisor I have found one of the toughest issues I face is finding people with the correct credentials that could fill my spot. Bachelors programs in Medical Technology or Clinical Laboratory Science (My degree) are few and far between. I had four students in my graduating class and the university closed the program two years after I graduated. While there is nothing subpar about the associate degree programs, we are bound by regulations that state supervisors and managers have a bachelor’s degree. There are options for people to go back and get the bachelor’s degree and then take the MT test but that adds another level of difficulty (finding people with the desire to take that next step). Identifying the person qualified first, then capable second is the challenge that all supervisor/managers face.

We have to start somewhere so let us start with qualified. This starts with the hiring process. It may be easy to hire candidates with the minimum qualifications to fill that spot you desperately need filled but you must resist that temptation. Look ahead and try to envision where this candidate fits six months or a year down the road. You should always be looking for your next supervisor. If you find yourself hired into a new laboratory you must identify quickly who will be able to take on more responsibility. I would take tasks that you perform and rate them on difficulty and level of problem solving. If an employee shows interest in taking on additional responsibility you give them low level tasks first, then you progress. This allows you to mentor them and let them grow into more responsibility. It also allows you to delegate tasks which can free up more time for you to take on higher level responsibility yourself.

This progressive thinking and working should be happening on a consistent basis. It should be fluid and really start from the top of your organization. If it doesn’t then try to get it started yourself and build up the people beneath you. When it comes time for you to take that next step the person that fills your shoes will be set up for success.

-Matthew Herasuta

Red Tape

I like debates so I’m going to start one and I hope people will comment below and get a dialogue going. How many pieces of paper do you have framed on your wall in the lab from regulatory bodies? If you are a reference lab that serves nationwide customers you may be putting up regulatory wallpaper! I have heard of more and more inspections in regards to laboratories.. My laboratory is inspected by CLIA, CAP, and AABB. With budgetary constraints the importance of the AABB certification has been discussed numerous times. I even feel myself that AABB is becoming more of a consulting company that publishes medically relevant treatment recommendations than an inspection body. I would like to see consolidation between CAP and AABB where the somewhat higher standards of AABB are adopted by CAP and laboratories would not have to pay separate fees for each.

Let’s take it a step further. If CLIA inspections are increasing are there rising tensions between them and CAP? What is making CLIA step up? Do they not trust the job that CAP is doing performing inspections of the laboratories? If CLIA inspections are becoming that difficult what do you as a manager/supervisor put your efforts toward to ensure you will be compliant no matter who inspects you? How does a laboratory go through 3 or more inspections a year and still stay on top of everything else? All these questions must be answered and quickly if you expect to have time to do what is required of you as a manager/supervisor. I don’t think too many laboratorians would care who inspects them, but I do think we would care about having one universal checklist that we can abide by and really dig in to what is important to keep the lab accurate and safe.

How are we expected to grow our business and serve our patients when we are constantly guessing on what checklist to abide by or who is coming to inspect us? We are consolidating in every other sector of healthcare to improve efficiency except in regulatory bodies. Is this just another consequence of big government or do we actually need them all? We should start the discussion and make our voices heard on what we feel we need from regulatory bodies to ensure we are doing our jobs as laboratorians. Are you as frustrated as I am? Or have I inadvertently started my career as a lobbyist for the laboratory field?  Comment below.

-Matthew Herasuta

Acquisitions and Takeovers

Early in my MBA classes I had one professor with over 35 years in Healthcare consulting say to the class, “There are very few examples of actual mergers; usually someone is acquired or someone is taken over.” This resonated with me when my previous hospital was informed that in 90 days we would be closing the doors. Now, it resonates with hospitals at an increasingly rapid rate. If you’re a person who loves keywords, “integration” will be your new favorite on the list. I currently sit on two integration committees (Blood Bank, Education) where we discuss the different ways we do things and how we can standardize our procedures to make sure that a patient receives the same testing at any Cleveland Clinic location. As big healthcare systems acquire more and more independent entities, integration will be the axiomatic factor to their future success.

If you’re a small community hospital laboratory manager/supervisor that has just received word you are going to join in a partnership with a large system, what next? The really big issues that laboratories deal with are instrumentation and supply chain. Once your service contracts are up, you’ll need to switch to the systems the big laboratory uses. You will be thrust into a much larger network of people and more importantly, talent. If you have open spots you will have a larger talent pool to pull from much easier than going to the job sites.

The biggest challenge you will have is watching your services be consolidated. If you were a full service hospital you will more than likely lose some services and this can have an effect on your test menu in the lab. Low volume but high profit tests will almost always be consolidated into a single location to get the most profit out of it. The send out department of your lab may become much busier because of this increased workload. The system will try its absolute hardest to lower their cost structure and this will include changes in your laboratory.

On a personal level the first thing to do as a manager/supervisor when you find out your hospital is being acquired is don’t panic. Very rarely do they come in immediately and “clean house”. They usually have a period of time when talent is evaluated and then decisions are made. The real question becomes do you want to work for the new system? The integration period can be difficult and time consuming. If you feel your hospital may be acquired, stay prepared. Keep your resume updated and just scan the job sites every once and a while and see what is out there. My biggest piece of advice is don’t get caught in a situation you have no control over. You are the manager/supervisor of the laboratory so you are the reason that it succeeds or fails. These are the same reasons the managerial staff is kept or let go once an acquisition has been completed.

This consolidation is only going to increase as the new healthcare legislation takes effect. Decreasing reimbursement from the government will force entities to combine forces and form systems of healthcare. Put yourself at the forefront and know what in your test menu that you could do without and what you could use from a larger system to be more profitable. When the time comes you are the talent they are looking to acquire, not take over.

-Matthew Herasuta

Multiplicity

How many of you remember the movie “Multiplicity?” If you don’t, Michael Keaton is offered the opportunity to clone himself so he can be many places at once. If you are a supervisor who also finds yourself on the bench you may be wishing for that same offer. With many healthcare organizations trimming the budget and looking to decrease the work force, (Cleveland Clinic wants to trim $330 million from the 2014 budget), finding time for those administrative duties is going to become extremely difficult. Without two or three of you, organization and prioritization will be your biggest allies in the fight against time.

A few things that have helped me in this endless fight are simple yet save me enough time that I do not have to take a lot of work home with me. The first is I have a love/hate relationship with paper. If I can scan it into a PDF file I will. It doesn’t matter if it is one page or 200 I will scan to prevent my desk from looking like a shred box. These PDF files are unalterable, time stamped, and pass as an original document during inspection. Virtual files on your computer take up a lot less space than filing cabinets and in most labs space is at a premium. Second, if you can delegate to staff some of the general duties, paperwork, or reports, do it. The benefit is threefold. You ease up your task list, you empower your employees, and you start to find who among your staff has the ability to fill your spot once you have the opportunity to move up. Yes, mistakes will happen at first but the benefit far outweighs the possible speed bumps.

Organization and prioritization will be your biggest allies in the fight against time.

A third helpful tip is to make templates and use them. If you are not strong in Microsoft Office have someone help you. Setting up the same report each month can take hours in itself. I have an electronic copy ready and available for every paper form I use. Furthermore, for my temperature logs I have 12 months in a file so at the end of the month my technologists can just pull the next month’s forms out and place them in the binder. Nothing needs to be printed or created.

This brings me to my next tip: think ahead. If you know you’re going to need a form each month print them out for the year and place them in an easily accessible folder or drawer.

My final tip, be consistent. If you need to pull a report on a certain day of the month, print it, perform the task associated with it and get rid of it. You don’t want to put it off for an off-bench day you have coming up. You could then get put on the bench because of a call-off, and now you have a mound of paper on your desk collecting dust. There may only be one of you, but you can work like there are more.

-Matthew Herasuta

Under the Hood

I like to keep some humor in the lab so when I see a technologist with a panel off a machine trying to troubleshoot an issue I will say “Uh-Oh, why do you have the hood up?” It’s a little tension breaker, especially if they are stressing about having their instrument down. It also acts as a little reset button so I can go through the troubleshooting steps with them. As technologists, we are modern day mechanics. We use instruments much more than we perform manual testing, and we are expected to be able to troubleshoot instruments that are more complex than the current day automobile.

Acquiring new instrumentation can be a lab changing experience. Each instrument has its quirks and special requirements. The vendors usually offer on site or even off site training for staff once the instrument is purchased. Who you send to these training sessions is just as important as the quality of training they receive. These sessions are where your staff will learn maintenance, operation, and most importantly troubleshooting. When your shiny new analyzer goes down, and it will, the time it takes to get it back up and running affects productivity, turnaround time, and staff morale. Nothing is more detrimental to a staff’s morale then coming into work and the first thing they hear is that the instrument they are on that day is already down. Having experienced that exact thing I can tell you it takes the wind right out of you.If it happens consistently you will see a decreased engagement by staff.

Whom should you send for analyzer training? You should have a good mix of talent and maybe some of the lower performing staff. This assures that you are keeping your talented staff engaged and shows weaker performers that you are invested in building them into a top performer. The question becomes, how do I make sure that the people I send get the most out of their experience? Let them know they will be responsible for presenting the material they learned to the rest of the staff once they get back from training. If any of your staff have an issue with that they are not the ones you should send. These small presentations will help with team building as well as solidifying the information for the key operator.

As leaders we must pick our key operators very carefully. When these choices become important is most likely when we won’t be in the office. Observe the staff that likes to troubleshoot instruments or that keep a level head once instruments are down. You want to make sure that once the hood goes up you have the best mechanic for the job.

-Matthew Herasuta

Reference Intervals vs. Reference Change Values

If we didn’t use reference intervals (RI), how would we know whether a person is “normal” or not? Or more accurately, how would we know whether a lab test result indicated health or disease? Reference intervals have been around as long as lab tests and they help clinicians diagnose and monitor a patient’s disease state. .

Most RI are developed using a specific patient population and should be used only with that population. However, some RIs are “health-based,” such as cholesterol and vitamin D. Both these analytes have RI that indicate what amount of the analyte should be present in a healthy individual, not how much is present in your specific population of patients. In general, health-based RI can be utilized in all populations, as long as the analyte assays are commutable. Thus these type of RI are often more useful than population-based intervals.

But should we be using reference intervals at all? One problem with population-based RI is that any given individual’s values may span a range that covers only part of the population RI due to biological variability. For example, an individual’s creatinine may be 0.6 – 0.9 mg/dL regularly. Since the RI for creatinine for his population is 0.4 – 1.4 mg/dL, a value of 1.2 mg/dL would not be flagged as be abnormal. However, 1.2 mg/dL may very well be an abnormal result for this individual We need to consider using reference change values (RCV) in addition to RI.

Reference change values are calculated values that are used to assess the significance of the difference between two measurements. Essentially, a RCV is the difference that must be exceeded between two sequential results for a change to be a significant change. The calculation requires knowledge of the imprecision of the analyte assay (CVA) and the biological variation (CVI) of the analyte. The formula for calculating RCV is: RCV=21/2 · Z · (CVA2 + CVI2)1/2 , where Z is the number of standard deviations for a given probability. Luckily, labs know the imprecision of their assays and there are tables available for biological variation.

It’s very likely that neither RI nor RCV by itself is adequate for interpreting analyte results. Using both may be a better alternative, especially using RCV for monitoring disease progression or therapeutic efficacy. Flagging sequential values that exceed the RCV—and reporting this change—should be considered.

-Patti Jones

Decisions, Decisions–Part 1

I’ve been reading a book called Leadership and Medicine by Floyd D. Loop. In it, he writes about decision making and its importance in leadership in all industries. In laboratory medicine, choices must be made quick and definitively. This skill can be observed early in a technologist’s career, often even as they train during their clinical rotations. As leaders we can pinpoint the quick thinkers and those who will have what it takes to make the larger decisions once they become leaders themselves. As leaders our decisions have more impact as we work our way up the ladder until the decisions we make affect entire organizations. Decision making at the executive level can be daunting and seal your fate as a success or the figurehead to blame.

The most important decision a leader can make is choosing their team members. Selecting a team that is similar to you may not always be the smartest decision. If you surround yourself with likeminded people, you will miss information and make ill-informed decisions. Contrary thinking will bring different sides of an issue to light. It can be hard to interview—let alone hire–someone you know doesn’t think like you, but their alternative view could strengthen your team. When I interview for leadership positions one of my first questions is, “Is this your first round of candidates or have you passed on any candidates?” If they have re-posted or passed on candidates they are not afraid to wait to find a person who fits their needs.

Most people make lists for projects that need completed. Ever write down a list of decisions that need to be made and their deadline? Former CEO of The Cleveland Clinic Dr. Loop writes, “Some leaders believe that all decisions must be grand in scope. The facts are that most decision making involves small details that add up to a larger goal.”

All of these decisions are null without one thing, trust. Trust in yourself as a leader as well as trust that you are a good decision maker from the people you lead. Decision making is at the heart of any organization and as leaders we must look for team members that can complement our weaknesses and build trust as we lead. With those two in hand you will find yourself making better decisions.

-Matthew Herasuta