Right Test, Right Time, Right Patient: The Age of Lab Stewardship

Last week, I attended the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC) conference in Chicago. I attended molecular diagnostics talks but also talks about quality improvement, the use of “big data,” and lab stewardship. I have an interest in QI as my AACC poster presentation last year was on lab interventions to reduce lab error frequency and I am also a resident on my hospital’s performance improvement committee.

So, what exactly is “big data?” It’s a word that we are hearing more often in the media these days. It’s also a term that is increasingly being used in our healthcare systems. In 2001, analyst Doug Laney defined “big data” as the “3 V’s: volume, velocity, and variety” so that’s as good a point as any to start deconstructing its meaning.

Volume refers to the enormous amounts of data that we can now generate and record due to the blazing advancement of technology. It also implies that traditional processing matters will not suffice and that innovative methods are necessary both to store and analyze this data. Velocity refers to the ability to stream data at speeds that most likely exceed our ability to analyze it completely in real-time without developing more technically advanced processors. And finally, variety refers to the multiple formats, both structured (eg – databases) and unstructured (eg – video), in which we can obtain this data.

I’m always amazed at the ability of the human mind to envision and create something new out of the void of presumed nothingness. Technology has always outstripped our ability to harness its complete potential. And the healthcare sector has usually been slower to adopt technology than other fields such as the business sector. I remember when EMR’s were first suggested and there was a lot of resistance (in med school, not that long ago, I still used paper patient charts). But now, healthcare players feel both pressure from external policy reforms and internal culture to capture and analyze “big data” in order to make patient care more cost-effective, safe, and evidence-based. And an increasing focus and scrutiny (and even compensation) on lab stewardship is a component of this movement.

I often find myself in the role of a “lab steward” during my CP calls. The majority of my calls involve discussing with, and sometimes, educating, referring physicians about the appropriateness of tests or blood products that they ordered…and not uncommonly, being perceived as the test/blood product “police” when I need to deny an order. But lab stewardship goes both ways. And these days, the amount of learning we need to keep up with to know how to be a good lab steward is prodigious, daunting, and sometimes, seemingly impossible.

So do you believe in this age of lab stewardship that it’s the job of the pathologist to collect and analyze “big [lab] data” and to employ the results to help ordering physicians to choose the right test at the right time for the right patient? Or is it a collaborative effort with ordering physicians? With patients? How do you foresee that the future practice of medicine needs to change from standards of practice currently?

 

Chung

-Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a third year resident physician at Rutgers – Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.

Getting Out of an Intellectual Laziness Slump

I’m currently listening to the Q&A session after a Big Data Analytics talk in the Grand Ballroom here at the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC) Annual Meeting at the McCormick Place in Chicago. As a medical resident with an MPH and health economic and statistics training and someone who helped perform lab error analysis during my PGY1 year that culminated in a poster presentation at this meeting last year, I found this series of talks very interesting. I feel re-inspired. What I mean by this statement is this…I often find myself in intellectual laziness slumps and I need experiences like these to recharge – to find other people with similar interests who want to participate in such discussions and who can also support us through those times when we are uninspired (or lazy, which can depend on point of view).

I’m just over halfway through my residency training. I’m also preparing materials and gathering letters of recommendations to apply to fellowships very soon. I also have peripheral thoughts of needing to start studying for boards, but that’s lower on my list after fellowship applications and publication submissions that I’ve put off writing for far too long. It’s easy during this long journey to become overwhelmed in addition to uninspired or lazy.

During the day, I work hard to approach my residency service tasks because patient care seems more imminently involved. But I need to get back to devoting one day during the weekend on non-service but also important residency-related tasks on my things-to-do checklist because despite how it may seem, I’m also passionate about them as well. What gets me more excited than networking at conferences such as these, is the opportunity to talk with experts about shared interests and possible collaborative projects…or at least the start of a friendship/mentorship where we can help each other move our healthcare system forward.

On another note, at the end of the week, after AACC is over, I will remain in Chicago to serve as the junior (resident) member of the College of American Pathologists (CAP) Council on Education (COE). I’m looking forward to our Friday night meeting dinner where we also have discussions that re-energize me as well in terms of working together to transform our profession for the better. I always feel privileged to be able to “pick the brains” of others who are intimately and actively involved in this endeavor over the casual setting of a delicious meal.

So, are you in an intellectual slump? If you need encouragement, feel free to email me at chungbm@rwjms.rutgers.edu and I hope to pay it forward and help you out of your slump or connect (I’ve always been a consummate “connector”…a quality from my grassroots organizing days, I suppose) you with mentors who might inspire you. If you are going to be in Chicago in early September, I also recommend that you attend the CAP Residents Forum on September 9, 2014 – you can register at www.thepathologistsmeeting.org or better yet, contact Jan Glas, head of resident engagement for CAP, at jglas@cap.org  to become your program’s delegate and/or volunteer to serve on the credentialing committee and sign in delegates who attend the RF in September.

 

Chung

-Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a third year resident physician at Rutgers – Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.

 

First-RISE

There had been talk about it for some time. We even discussed the topic during the meeting of an ASCP committee that I served on previously. It’s the First-RISE. So, all of us senior residents know the RISE but this month, ASCP administered a slightly different test that is meant to test the new PGY-1 in their baseline knowledge compared to what is required for AP/CP training. Sometime next month, they will receive their test results just as we did our RISE scores this past spring.

I know that the First-RISE is not merely giving the RISE that we all know and love/hate to the first years…and that there are some topics on there that we just don’t see on our version of the RISE. But the idea is the same – to identify areas of strength versus weakness. Programs and residents can then take this information to devise personalized study plans or lists of topic areas to focus on more intently.

For those of you who are checklist people and/or disciplined studiers who stick to their “plans”, what is the best way to study? Do you think that First-RISE will assist program directors in helping to start off their first years on the right track? Do you think that First-RISE is meaningful?

 

Chung

-Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a third year resident physician at Rutgers – Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.

Third Year Questions

So, half of my residency training is complete. Surprisingly, I have learned more than I thought I knew but still feel behind where I think that I should be. Initially, grossing had been most difficult for me in terms of speed and time management. But I spent 3 months at the end of my 2nd year at our highest-volume, most-difficult surgical pathology site and only now see the benefits of my training there. Many of the lessons I learned while at that site inform how I dictate and gross my specimens now. At my new program I do not have templates to follow or surgpath fellows to advise me how to gross as I had previously. Even though my chiefs will go over the specific nuances here that may differ from how I was previously trained, I am still given more autonomy than a first year because I can apply those lessons I must have subconsciously learned.

Even so, despite all that I have learned, the thought of taking boards in approximately one year still seems far away but not far enough away that I don’t feel like the volume of information to learn is not still overwhelming. First and foremost, my thoughts wander to the prospect of starting to study for AP/CP boards (but still procrastinating as of this moment due to work and still moving in).

Then the second equally big thought on my mind is that of fellowship applications in a couple months. I just recently started researching programs. We do not have a Common Match when it comes to pathology fellowships and we are also competing for spots with non-pathology residency trained physicians for subspecialties such as dermpath, clinical microbiology, and so on. CAP members last year gave a great webinar addressing how to prepare to apply for fellowships – a handout and recorded webinar can be found at http://www.cap.org/apps/docs/pathology_residents/pdf/q_a_fellowship_webinar.pdf and http://vimeo.com/70936253, respectively.

For those who have been in this spot before, any advice how to plan my third year and address these two big beasts – studying for the boards and fellowship applications?

 

Chung

-Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a third year resident physician at Rutgers – Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.

Flexibility within Structure: Towards Competency-Based Clinical Pathology Training

Since I previously blogged about introductory surgical pathology training, I thought that I’d switch gears and focus this week’s post on introductory CP training. Based on my limited experiences during medical school rotations and at two different residency programs, I can say that developing a targeted CP curriculum (both introductory and more advanced) to train pathology residents can be difficult. Often many of the CP services can function without a resident so clinical laboratory scientists (CLSs) may be in a quandary as to what to do with residents when we are present.

I found that I’ve had the best and most educational experiences when I spent time at a CP lab bench with a CLS who likes to teach and does it well. Lab directors should either identify techs who excel at or train their CLSs how to teach. It’s not as easy as it sounds. The technologist has to not only complete their usual daily workload but at the same time break down the important and most clinically relevant parts of what they do to residents as well as to deliver all this information in an engaging manner.

Having a written syllabus with a logical flow of requirements that builds on previously learned concepts helps to provide structure for those who need it. The syllabus should include rotation objectives, important contact information, and topics and tests necessary to cover by rotation-end. But within CP, I see more of an opportunity for us to train in a competency-based manner at our own pace and toward our individual interests. For someone like me with extensive, hands-on lab and research experience, I need less (sometimes none) of my time spent learning how tests are set up (I basically told my attendings that it wouldn’t be useful for me to watch the CLSs pipetting; by reading up quickly on an unfamiliar permutation of a test based on a concept I already know, I usually can understand it as well). Also, since I learn more by doing, letting me act as a first consult for referring physician calls about test issues really accelerated my learning because if I didn’t know about the test/issue, you can bet I did by the time I called the physician back with a response. And I also learned that a good clinical work-up is key to good care but that applies in any area of pathology that we work in.

But I understand that not everyone has experience or comfort in the lab setting. At my current program, they do two months of an introductory ‘wet lab’ rotation during their first and second years. They have competency/credentialing checklists of tasks they must perform during these rotations. The first month is spent in chemistry, special chemistry, microbiology, hematology, and blood bank becoming acquainted with the staff as well as understanding the theory and performing hands-on applications and analysis of the repertoire of tests available in each section. This is not because we will be expected to do things like a Gram stain in the future but so we have some context to understand what we will be explaining often to referring physicians when they call about a particular test. I think it also helps us to understand the time frame of task completion to help explain when we do serve as the intermediary with referring physicians. And most importantly, you get friendly with technologists who honestly really will help you a lot. Being competency-based, I was allowed the flexibility to decide my competency level (ie – I skipped the ‘perform a Gram stain’ portion of my checklist because I already had done many of these in the past). The second month is spent in more specialized areas such as molecular diagnostics, cytogenetics, advanced microbiology, and special coagulation.

Telling residents to just ‘go sit at a bench with a tech’ is not all that useful, especially if the tech is busy or not interested in or good at teaching. That’s why it is so pivotal that medical directors identify technologists who can serve in this role or do in-service trainings so they understand how to participate in resident teaching. Also, telling residents to just ‘go read up on X’ is also not the most helpful because we learn more by actively doing than just passively reading. For residents in specialties with more patient contact, they have no choice but to participate in direct patient care. At times, it seems more difficult to remember to train pathology residents to feel that same urgency they would if they had the patient in front of them and also to train them in a manner that more actively engages them, but it’s possible. It just requires more effort and thought during the curriculum design phase.

Another thing that I like here at my current program is how during July they have separate orientations to each service regardless of the fact that the first years are on intro to SP and I’m on a hybrid intro to wet lab/comprehensive CP (chemistry and microbiology) rotation with some grossing time to learn the nuances of how grossing is done at this institution. We all have to attend these AP and CP orientation sessions that are geared toward preparing us for situations we will see on call – grossing late Friday prostates for the Saturday call person, how to accession and handle a frozen, transfusion reaction calls, and so on. First years also participate in supervised CP day call with an attending to learn how to handle specific situations so that they are pros by the time they have night/weekend/holiday call as a senior resident. Here, we cover both AP/CP call at the same time as senior residents.

So, how do they teach intro to CP at your institution? How do you think is the best way to train residents during introductory CP rotations? I would love to hear your opinions.

 

Chung

-Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a third year resident physician at Rutgers – Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.

Part of the Healthcare Team

The laboratory is often considered a separate entity from the healthcare team. We are the “black box” that provides information and so some equate us with the healthcare IT department. Instead of being isolated with our instruments and microscopes while we crank out data like a big computer, we should be an integrated member of the team and involved in patient care. Imagine the benefits to the patient if a laboratory professional were included in patient rounds. Questions such as: “Can we test for that? Is that test performed on-site? What kind of sample do they need?” would have immediate answers. Laboratory professionals could also provide guidance in test selection and differential diagnoses.

Laboratory professionals and pathologists should work toward this level of involvement. And it doesn’t need to start by leaping into the middle of someone’s rounds. It can start as simply as expanding on an answered question. For example: the transplant team requests a STAT tacrolimus level, but tacrolimus is only performed once a day by tandem MS. Asking to speak with the transplant about tacrolimus testing can actually open many doors. Not only does everyone on the team now understand how tacrolimus testing works, the session also introduces the laboratory professional to a variety of healthcare providers. These providers now have a face to put with a name and a laboratory contact to call in the future when new questions arise. This initial contact could lead to cooperative efforts on other fronts. A rope bridge has been started, and it can become a freeway. All that’s required is to recognize opportunities, and get the laboratory professionals out of the lab and into the healthcare team.

This increase in visibility could feasibly become vital to the survival of the laboratory in the future. As healthcare dollars shrink, it’s incredibly important that the public and our healthcare colleagues understand just how much of their care is predicated by information the laboratory provides. It’s our job as laboratory professionals to help them understand. The doctors of pharmacology (PharmDs) led the way with this type of paradigm shift; now it’s time for laboratory professionals to follow suit. The laboratory can become one of the many faces of medicine rather than its most hidden profession.

 

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-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.

PGY-1: First Month

So, as another July 1st has come and passed, neophyte first years have begun their training in pathology residency training programs across the country. Many will begin with either a bootcamp-style orientation and/or an introduction to surgical pathology. Although I do have a PGY-1 friend who started with a CP rotation (and not an intro one at that).

I was fortunate to have a creative surgpath director who has an interest in different styles of medical education during my PGY-1. During the last two weeks of June, in addition to the general administrative orientation requirements, we had what we affectionately refer to as our “bootcamp.” First, we were taught proper blade/cutting technique with various food products (eg – potatoes, bratwurst) to get a feel for how to adjust our cutting technique for various specimen consistencies.

She was truly dedicated and personally went to a butcher in Chicago and picked up pig organ blocks three times for us during those two weeks. Then she and one of our two surgical fellows instructed us in the Rokitansky en bloc method of autopsy dissection after we had watched a narrated DVD that she had created from the previous year PGY-1 training sessions. We then would have to complete a fourth unsupervised pig block dissection and need to score at least a 75% in order to pass our autopsy competency exam. Those who did not pass, had to repeat the exam.

We also learned how to cut mock uteri and prostates since these are common specimens. She had molded and frozen ground turkey to simulate these organs and even added surprises like chick peas to represent leiomyomas. We practiced how to bivalve and cut the uteri for both endometrial and cervical cancers as well as how to gross prostates…although I did go through the whole year and never get one until I rotated in the fall of my second year at the VA where I got them almost daily.

Additionally, in order to learn how to cut frozen sections, we took ten sections from various organs from our pig blocks and embedded, cut, and stained frozen sections. This way we could understand how certain sections cut better than others (eg – fatty tissue is more difficult to cut), how to orient them, and how to cut them well without folding and unevenness. We were then graded on our sections for frozen section competency exam. For those who did not pass, they got some personal remediation at the cryostat with our assistant director of surgical pathology.

In the gross room, we had PAs who were good at teaching. We practiced dictating biopsies and placentas, grossing placentas, and grossing “smalls” like an appendix or gallbladder. Twice a week, we had multi-scope subspecialty sessions in dermpath, liver, renal, and neuropath since most of these types of specimens go to either our fellows or the subspecialty pathologists and our first years rarely saw them.

We initially started with a six-person, six-day schedule of frozens, grossing biopsies/smalls/bigs preview, grossing bigs, autopsy, peds path, and neuropath for 1.5 months. Our PAs usually gross our biopsies and benign smaller specimens. Then we were whittled down to a four-person, four-day schedule of frozens, preview, bigs, and autopsy with two of us taking “mandatory” vacations. The two residents that remained on SP after our five months of intro to SP were incorporate into our standard three-person, three-day schedule of frozen/grossing bigs, biopsy/smalls signout/bigs preview, and bigs signout.

At my new program, it is different because we don’t have surgpath fellows. Since we are a small program, each senior resident serves as a co-chief and one of their responsibilities is the training of the PGY-1 residents in surgpath during an initial one-month intro to SP rotation. Other senior residents on the surgpath rotation also help out with the teaching. They also give AM lectures on grossing topics in Lester’s Manual of Surgical Pathology and the specific nuances of the grossing preferences of our attendings.

As for me, I start off with a comprehensive CP rotation that combines working in both the chemistry and microbiology sections. As a PGY-1 here, they have 2 months of ‘Wet Lab’ or an intro to CP rotation. But since I am a PGY-3 transfer, I am a cross between a PGY-1 in terms of knowing how things are exactly done here and a senior resident. So this month for me combines intro to SP, Wet Lab, and the subsequent comp CP rotation that would come after Wet Lab. So, I get to gross a little (since things may be done differently here), learn about where and how things are done in the labs, and study more specialized CP topics. Since I came from a program where we rotate at four different hospitals for surgpath and can be self-directed in terms of CP, this works fine for me but still can be initially daunting in terms of trying to fit in do things the way they would like them done here.

So what do you think are the best ways to train PGY-1 residents most effectively? Should they start off with an intro to SP rotation and how should that be structured in terms of time, topic areas, and teaching of those topic areas? Or does it matter if they don’t do an intro to SP rotation and go straight into a CP rotation? And who should teach them how to gross? Let us know how things are done at your institution.

 

Chung

-Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a third year resident physician at Rutgers – Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.