On Lab Medicine: A Model for Quality Improvement

What do gopher holes have in common with quality improvement? More than you might think! In a paper available on Lab Medicine’s advanced access, Dr. Yaolin Zhou writes about a novel framework for quality improvement initiatives called EPIDEM, or “explore, promote, implement, document, evaluate, and modify.”

Read the paper and let us know what you think! 

In the Line of Fire: Transforming Data into Decisions

Hello everyone. Back again!

This time, I’ve got something to talk about that’s a little more serious. I don’t like to deviate from fun lab-related memes and insights,but every now and then something really strikes a chord. Enough so to talk to all of you about it. Some of you reached out to me after my post discussing clinician burnout and suicide in healthcare and that felt great; connecting with people who had some powerful stories to share really validated that conversation. Today, I want to talk about guns. Specifically, the public health epidemic of gun violence, the current conversation about whose “lane” (read:responsibility) belongs to whom, and what role those of us in laboratory medicine play.

I was horrified to see the recent shooting and murder of three in my Chicago home at Mercy hospital in the Near South Side. I won’t rehash the details that are on the news. Emergency resident physician Dr.Tamara O’Neal, newly minted Chicago Police Officer Samuel Jimenez, and pharmacy resident Dayna Less were all shot and killed point-blank by a gunman in the Mercy Hospital emergency department. A place that is supposed to be for healing, safety, and hope. Senseless.

Image 1. Victims of the Mercy Hospital shooting: (L-R) emergency room Dr. Tamara O’Neal, Chicago police Officer Samuel Jimenez, and pharmacy resident Dayna Less. These were all new to their careers, whose lives were abruptly ended by senseless gun violence. Source: ABC7 Chicago.

This now presses the start button on America’s newest tradition: a very short-lived, ill-timed, and often tone-deaf debate about the firearm subculture in our nation. Okay, bias check: you should know that I am not a fan of guns of any kind. If it were up to me, they would either belong in museums or find more useful lives melted and repurposed as metal used to reinforce hurricane-prone buildings or safe hypodermic needles for patients in need. That said, this isn’t a gun debate article; nor is it an open forum to discuss gun control, the second amendment, the NRA, or anything political. I respect opinions and educated civil discourse, but this piece today is focused on health—public health.

The epidemic of gun violence in America is a problem. The American Public Health Association (APHA) posted on their website extensively on the topic of gun related deaths which “kill more than 38,000 people and cause nearly 85,000 injuries each year. As a longtime advocate for violence prevention policies, APHA recognizes a comprehensive public health approach to addressing this growing crisis is necessary.” (Read their fact sheet here)Furthermore, the American College of Physicians (ACP) published a position paper on the topic in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal (read it here)where they establish a comprehensive set of recommendation from a conglomerate of clinical medical specialty organizations. Increasingly now more than ever does this prevalence of gun related injury and death present itself as a major health concern: a public health epidemic. I could talk to you about the number of mass shootings in our country, or the epidemiologic incidence of gun-related deaths compared to other countries, even the policy discussion around gun ownership and regional policies regarding safety and gun control—it doesn’t matter. All the charts and graphs any recycled article on the subject will just fade into the mist of “yet another shooting.” That’s not okay. I don’t want to drown you in data. Better put, I can’t. See, the problem is you’ll see the same pieces of information regarding the gun debate as you scroll through the news on your social media. Something new I want to add to this conversation is the overwhelming emphasis on the simple truth that this is a public health issue.

Image 2. In the US, we fund approximately as much research for gun violence as we do for drowning and falls. Of the three, mortality related to gun violence is about the same as sepsis—and that’s heavily documented. Source: Journal of the American Medical Association.

This unfortunate new reality is no different from other public health programs that have addressed various issues over the past decades. What do deaths from motor vehicle accidents, fires, smoking-related ung cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, antibiotic resistant bacterial infections, and traumatic brain injuries have in common? Per the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), they were all public health crises that pushed medicine past a breaking point in clinical burden and forced us to invest in research which conclusively provided results to address related mortality and morbidity. AFFIRM is a non-profit organization which is building a coalition in medicine for the purpose of researching and addressing this newest public health issue. They argue that,without medical evidence we won’t be able to find solutions to the senseless loss of life from gun violence. Death from car accidents gave us the seatbelt and tickets for disobeying its required legal usage. Death in home fires got us the smoke detector and regulations surrounding their installation. Lung cancer deaths led to smoking cessation programs, increased taxation, and policy changes regarding access to cigarettes. Sugar-related morbidities created a conversation about healthy diets, public policies addressing food deserts, and taxation programs for drinks with added sugar. Heart attack deaths gave us longitudinal studies for best care practices and lifestyle recommendations.Resistant bugs established a new discussion on antimicrobial stewardship. Brain injuries gave us new guidelines for concussions. I could go on. That’s only the tip of the public health iceberg. The point is that if there is an epidemiological trend where people are literally dying, data married with health metric-oriented research create solutions!  

But let’s add deaths from gun violence to that list. What then do they all have in common, besides the concern for improving public health? Save for the tragically evident lack of a solution, the similarity becomes clear: there is lobby, interest, power, and support. Cars didn’t always have seat belts, cigarettes used to be cheap and doctors used to smoke at work,no one talked about cheeseburgers giving you heart attacks and diabetes decades ago, and helmet-clashing football players didn’t always receive the treatment they needed. Why? Because some entity—corporate, societal, etc.—wasn’t keen on“buying in.” Much like it takes justification and convincing for administration to buy your fancy chemistry analyzer, so do the public and oppositional lobby groups which require swaying toward the intervention(s) being proposed.

Image 3. The Dickey Amendment passed in 1996 was a small rider in a bill that was part of a larger budgetary spending bill. Effectively, it completely disallows public health research into gun related deaths, gun violence, or any publication that would endorse gun control or limitations. Source: 104th Congress.

Often, the data stacks high enough to influence decisions on its own. But that isn’t the case with gun related mortality. I see gun related violence as sort of the opposite of the vaccine debate: with the flu shot there seems to be too much data and not enough stories to convince the anti-vax movement to realize the significant threat being addressed. On the other hand, gun related violence exhibits far too many stories without any significant amounts of data. Possibly, this might be related to the limitations placed upon the CDC since the mid-1990’s that forbid them from using funds “to advocate or promote gun control.” Yes, really. Just last month, I wrote about the newest advancements in influenza testing and the best practice of vaccinating annually.I cited thousands of deaths related to vaccine-preventable or epidemiologic illness; 80,000 dead from influenza last year, thousands from swine flu over a decade ago, etc. But when you try and cite proper, medical data regarding guns in public health, its … not so easy. No data, no research. No research, no change.

Many of you have undoubtedly read about the current social media “discussion” regarding whose “lane” gun violence is to navigate: The National Rifle Association (NRA) asserted in a tweet that doctors, discussing the issue only within their field should leave it to more “qualified” groups like them. That’s been a tinder box of vitriol the medical community, for lack of a better term, is up in arms about. I followed and read tons of comments about this as it unfolded, hearing from endless doctors, nurses, and laboratorians posting with blood spattered scrubs, decimated trauma bays, and emptied blood bank refrigerators that this growing epidemic is enraging clinicians about. Earlier, I highlighted similarities between public health problems and their respective solutions citing that they all shared oppositional lobby groups. What better profession to handle the topic in question than medicine—whose associated lobby power from professional societies like ours to Big Pharma amass one of the largest voices in policy making in America. And another thing, as gun violence is a public health concern, whose literal job is it to address health, mortality, and morbidity? All of ours. Nurse educators lead patients through lifestyle modifications they can employ to curtail some effects of diabetes, physicians manage patient treatment regimens balancing input from pharmaceutical tools to professional guidelines,clinicians like us strive to provide the best resources available by advancing hemoglobin A1c levels or point of care testing. We all play roles in every single healthcare matter that translates to life or death, so why not this one?

So, I touched on it a little here, but what role does the medical laboratory professional play? Besides bullets in tissue section, how does the public health epidemic of gun violence reach the lab? I wasn’t so sure, until I read a story about Dr. Julie Melinek, a forensic pathologist with UC Davis and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department. In response to the NRA’s“stay in your lane” tweet regarding gun deaths, Dr. Melinek tweeted “Do you have any idea how many bullets I pull out of corpses weekly? This isn’t my lane. It’s my [expletive] highway.” She proceeded to turn her phone off and work for a few hours. When she returned, things were viral. In an interview with Medscape, she discussed this story and the topic at large with editor-in-chief Dr. Eric Topol. She talked about the epidemiologic role clinicians of all specialties play in risk assessment and harm reduction,saying “…if we see something that’s dangerous for the pediatric population,like a toy that breaks apart or is a choking hazard, we report it to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and it gets recalled because it’s a hazard.”She and Dr. Topol explored the ways clinicians can advocate for patients and public health at large, concluding with some poignant words, encouraging those of us in medicine to reach out to elected officials. The internet facilitates such an easy way to communicate, she says that it becomes paramount to voice the opinions held within the medical community to those in policy-making; especially clinicians who may own guns or be active NRA members! Because, ultimately, this isn’t about gun ownership or second amendment rights—its about the health, well-being, and safety of our patients.

Dr. Melinek represents a single voice within the pathology community. You’ve read my posts about lab management values, interdisciplinary team work, attainable goals, and utilization of data to make clinical decisions. Those of us in lab medicine find ourselves at the forefront of translating data into decisions. When quality control measures on instrumentation fail to correct after countless interventions, do we continue running assays? No! We work-up and investigate what root cause is the problem and fix that if possible; thinking outside the box, looking at lesser-than-obvious causes, investigating all possible solutions, etc. In pathology we’re the first to implement new, highly advanced tests and corroborate with other specialties about what the new changes mean for patient care and management of diseases (i.e. 5thgeneration high-sensitivity troponins and evolving to a new standard of care for acute coronary syndromes). We’re also the first to notice trends that impact patient outcomes and the first to provide solutions: think back to the last time you spent a few minutes reading your labs metrics and goals posted somewhere at work. Dr. Melinek collecting bullets from her autopsy patients is no different than forensic pathologists historically noting trends in mortality statistics, iatrogenic, environmental, and other causes of death.And, when those trends get published and presented, they call for further research and investment into public health interventions that may prevent those deaths in the first place. Pathology, public health, epidemiology, and laboratory medicine are built for this. We’re the tangible bridge between what gets discovered and what gets researched. We’re also in a privileged position to have a bird’s eye view of a larger clinical, epidemiologic picture as pathologists see populations of patients.

In a recent Lablogatory post, ASCP’s Lotte Mulder (ASCP Leadership Institute and Patient Champions programs) wrote about Moral Capacity, Courage, and Resiliency. Specifically, she said “It is not enough to understand and recognize a moral dilemma, it is important to act on it… it is critical for leaders to understand that culture influences moral and ethical behavior.” If America’s gun violence problem is one that desperately needs data, then why shouldn’t we, then, be professional and cultural leaders and advocate through data collection, analysis, and translation like we always do? Let’s use our tools and our talent for lab medicine, in partnership with the growing coalition of clinical professional specialties, and cultural humility for the populations we protect, and address this once and for all.

Thank you.

–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 actively involved in public health and laboratory medicine, conducting clinicals at Bronx-Care Hospital Center in New York City.

Regulatory Inspections: Are You Ready?

Part Three: The inspectors have left – now what?

In the previous 2 blog posts we discussed how to prepare for your inspection, and what to expect during the inspection itself. In the last of our 3 part series on regulatory inspection preparedness, today we’ll be covering what to do after the inspection ends.

Throughout the inspection itself, the inspectors should be communicating any issues or citations they uncover; ensure that your management staff is taking notes on any of these potential findings. Based on these notes, you should start working to address and correct any issues right away. Formal documentation regarding the nature of any official citations can take several weeks to receive back, depending upon the regulatory agency performing the inspection. Waiting for the formal report to begin making corrections will reduce the time you have to form a plan of correction, and can further impact patient care depending upon the citation received.

Have a Plan. Draft a spreadsheet to record: 1) each issue identified, 2) laboratory department(s) it was found in, 3) associated risk factor (patient care or safety issues = 1, regulatory requirements = 2, recommendations = 3), 4) staff member assigned to investigate and correct the issue, 5) due date for investigation response, and 6) status of the investigation (in progress, on hold, completed). Share this spreadsheet with your management team, and review at weekly/monthly staff meetings for updates on progress completion.

Risk 1 Issues. The safety of your patients and staff, along with ensuring accuracy in testing results is the number one priority of a laboratory. If the inspectors identified any weaknesses in these areas, they should be addressed first. This would include items such as staff not adhering to required safety precautions, not following manufacturer requirements for quality control testing or instrument maintenance/calibration, lack of follow-up for QC or proficiency testing failures, along with any other finding which questions the integrity and accuracy of the testing being performed.

Risk 2 Issues. Double check the regulatory standard to ensure you fully understand the requirements, and that you have appropriate evidence of compliance. As the testing activity menu and complexity of testing increases, the amount of documentation requirements can increase as well. Even with a paperless system, it is easy to overlook a signature of review or checkmark on a log. “If it’s not documented, it wasn’t done.” For simple administrative oversights, review your current processes to identify any gaps or areas that can be improved upon to ensure all documentation is properly filled out each month. If the inspectors noted a discrepancy between your current policy and how staff are actually performing a test, review the testing process to see where the true discrepancy is – is the policy outdated and needs to be revised, or do staff need to be retrained on the current policy with competency assessed for compliance?

Risk 3 Issues. Inspections are a great opportunity for further education for all those involved, both the inspector and staff being inspected as well. For some regulations, there is no one set way that must be followed in order to demonstrate compliance with a requirement. Hearing how someone else is meeting the requirements may spark an innovative idea from your own staff on how your current processes can be improved. Be open to hearing new ideas, and find ways to implement those which you feel would be successful at your institution.

Evaluate All Sections of the Lab. When investigating a finding in one laboratory department, ensure that any process improvements are shared across all areas of the lab. Just because microbiology didn’t get caught with expired reagents like hematology did this inspection, doesn’t mean that they aren’t at risk for future inspections.

Focus on the Positives. Congratulate and recognize your staff on their successes in the areas you performed exceptionally well in. It’s a joint effort to ensure the lab is inspection ready; be sure to pass along any compliments received throughout the inspection process to all levels of staffing. Focus on what you’re doing well and how you can continue to maintain those processes and implement them in additional areas.

A little bit of preparation ahead of time will make the inspection process smoother and less stressful for all involved. When viewed as a learning experience and opportunity for improvement rather than a visit from the “lab police”, laboratory inspections can be a useful tool to confirm the quality of your overall laboratory program.

 

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-Kyle Nevins, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM is one of ASCP’s 2018 Top 5 in the 40 Under Forty recognition program. She has worked in the medical laboratory profession for over 18 years. In her current position, she transitions between performing laboratory audits across the entire Northwell Health System on Long Island, NY, consulting for at-risk laboratories outside of Northwell Health, bringing laboratories up to regulatory standards, and acting as supervisor and mentor in labs with management gaps.

Moral Capacity, Courage, and Resiliency

Leaders’ decisions and actions have moral ramifications, both on an individual and an organizational level. There are three factors of moral development, namely moral capacity, moral courage, and moral resiliency.

Being able to recognize a dilemma as a moral issue is one of the critical aspects of leadership. Such awareness is referred to as moral capacity, which influences the characteristics and recognition of a moral issue. There are multiple aspects that influence a leaders’ moral capacity. The first aspect is their previous experiences with moral dilemmas and how much they learned from them. The second is to what extent a leader is able to see and understand the multiple perspectives of an issue. The third is how leaders view their role and whether or not that incorporates a moral view.

It is not enough to understand and recognize a moral dilemma, it is important to act on it. Such moral courage is especially important when under pressure to act immorally. Such pressure can come from peers, supervisors, or the entire organization. Therefore, the more moral courage someone has, the more likely it is that they take a moral action or make a moral decision. One important aspect of moral courage is the notion of willpower. Willpower is a muscle that people can practice with small tasks, such as drinking a glass of water before breakfast. The more people practice it on small tasks, the more likely they are to use it during challenging situation, such as making a moral decision when pressured to do otherwise.

Moral resiliency is an extension of moral courage. While moral courage focuses on the strength to make moral decisions in the short-term, moral resiliency is a process through which leaders continuously adapt their moral compass and actions. Moral resiliency is this what creates sustainable moral decision-making.

Depending on how leadership effectiveness is defined, moral behavior can either make leaders more or less effective. When looking at effectiveness in the short term, it is possible that moral behavior can impede effectiveness if measured in terms of money or short-term success. However, when looking at effectiveness in the long term, moral behavior increases leaders’ effectiveness. The more honest, and thus morally, people behave, the more effective they are. In a world that is becoming more globalized, it is critical for leaders to understand that culture influences moral and ethical behavior. In other words, what is moral in one culture might be immoral in another. To increase leaders’ effectives it is therefore important to understand the cultural implications of behavior and to be aware of the differences in appropriate and effective behavior.

 

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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 Transparent Injury

While Maria was working in Microbiology, she cut her finger while pulling reports off of the printer. It was a minor paper cut, so she ignored it, put her gloves on and continued her work back on the bench. A week later, the tiny cut was swollen and red. She decided to report the incident to her manager since it wasn’t healing. The manager asked Maria to report to the Occupational Health department, but was unsure if any treatment would be covered since the incident was not reported while she was at work.

Steve and Josh were bored during the night shift and they created a ball made from rubber bands to toss around. When Josh didn’t catch the ball, it hit the open tray of formaldehyde on the gross bench, and it splashed into Josh’s eye. He rinsed his eyes in the eyewash station for a couple of minutes, but both men were afraid to report the incident for fear of getting in trouble. Josh’s eye irritation continued to worsen, and he had to go to the eye doctor for treatment.

There are obvious consequences for injuries that occur in the laboratory, and reporting them is important for many reasons. Staff may be motivated in some instances to not report, but that creates problems for the individual, the department, for the facility, and even for other labs across the country! That may seem like a stretch, but it will become clearer with exploration.

The value in injury and accident reporting starts with medical follow-up. Those incidents which require treatment or abatement of infection can and should be dealt with quickly, and appropriate monitoring can be done if necessary. Some injuries may require immediate first aid, and a trip to the emergency department may even be necessary. Not reporting those types of injuries can be very dangerous for staff. Other incidents may require physician office visits or other monitoring, and employees who need it should be encouraged to comply.

In many work places the injury follow-up visits and treatment are covered financially by the institution, either via a structured occupational health program or through reimbursement. Some organizations may not offer financial coverage, however, if the incident that occurred at work is not reported as soon as possible. That reporting delay can raise suspicion as to whether or not the injury actually did occur while on the job, and since the written reporting protocol was not followed, there may also be no obligation for employer medical coverage.

Departmental issues will arise when incident reporting in not part of the overall lab safety culture. Sometimes there can be reprisals for unsafe behaviors which lead to accidents, but if the safety culture is good and if managers and employees coach against such practices, then there should be fewer overall incidents to report. That said, a culture of secrecy regarding injuries or exposures can also be dangerous. There is value in talking to all staff about an incident that occurred within the department. Staff can learn from the event and have a healthy discussion about how to keep it from reoccurring. A discussion of events can bring important safety issues to light, particularly if similar incidents happen with multiple people. This sharing of information can also promote awareness of good safety practices that can aid in the prevention of further incidents for all who work in the department.

OSHA requires the reporting of certain work place injuries, those that may have led to time away from work or that need medical follow up, for example. This injury data is compiled and reported nation-wide. It becomes a good source for benchmark data, a way to be able to compare your lab injury rates with others across the country. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides this data as information labs can use. One way to utilize the information is to see if the number of reportable injuries you are seeing in your lab is comparable to a national average. That assessment can give you a starting point in determining whether or not your lab’s safety incidents are at typical levels. Of course, lab safety professionals want to see zero injuries, but if you see your lab injury numbers are very high compared to benchmark data, you can begin to see where to focus in on fixes for the lab physical environment or on creating specific safety training.

There is great value in talking about safety incidents that may result in injury or exposure in the lab setting. These “safety stories” raise awareness of safety issues, and they can act as a deterrent for repeat incidents. Create a culture where staff feel free and comfortable to report incidents, and be sure to discuss them with all staff, and record reportable injuries as well. Having reliable national data also provides helpful information to other labs, and better information can help to improve safety in laboratories everywhere!

 

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Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP), SLS, CQA (ASQ) has over 25 years experience as a certified medical technologist. Today he is the Laboratory Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, a system of seven hospitals and over 20 laboratories and draw sites in the Tidewater area of Virginia. He is also known as Dan the Lab Safety Man, a lab safety consultant, educator, and trainer.

WATS3D Esophageal Screening for Barrett’s Esophagus

Recently, a new technology has become available for screening the esophagus for early detection of at-risk patients for cancer. Esophageal cancer has one of the highest mortality rates. Watch this interview with Rob Odze, a pathologist who works with the technology, and learn more about how this could impact the practice of clinicians, pathologists, and laboratory professionals involved in upper endoscopy services.

 

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-Dan Milner, MD, MSc, spent 10 years at Harvard where he taught pathology, microbiology, and infectious disease. He began working in Africa in 1997 as a medical student and has built an international reputation as an expert in cerebral malaria. In his current role as Chief Medical officer of ASCP, he leads all PEPFAR activities as well as the Partners for Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment in Africa Initiative.

Overview of Working with Different Generations: Composite of Current Workforce

There are currently five different generations at work today: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Generation Z. This means that in any work environment, you can have a group of people between the ages of 15-80. This is an exciting time to be working because we can all learn from many different generational experiences, values, and communication styles.

The two largest generations in the work place are the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. This is because these are both the largest generations in terms of population. However, with the Baby Boomers slowly moving into retirement, the Millennials are about to take over.

Traditionalists are still present in the workforce for a few reasons. First, they have tremendous experience and organizational knowledge and many organizations are trying to keep them around so that they do not lose that information. This means that Traditionalists are often Presidents of organizations or members of their Board of Directors. Secondly, Traditionalists are loyal to their organizations and they generally keep working as long as they can because of their values of security and getting the job done.

Generation X and Z are also in the workplace, but neither is very large. However, Gen Xers serve an important purpose because they are flexible and adaptable and because they value work-life balance and constructive feedback. They understand both the world without technology, so that can relate to Baby Boomers, and the world of the internet and social media, so they learn technology fast, which is appreciated by Millennials. Generation Z is only now starting to enter the workforce, so little is known about their work styles. However, they are expected to be independent, entrepreneurial, determined, and loyal.

The key to working with multiple generations is respect. Everyone wants to be respected and appreciated for what they bring to an organization. Being open and flexible to learning about different generational values and communication styles, will set any leader and employee up for success. Provide everyone with positive and constructive feedback and create a work environment that allows for more flexibility in terms of work hours, work location, and dress code whenever possible. Finally, realize that what motivates you personally is not necessarily what motivates other, especially if they are from different generations. Working with a diverse group of generational workers is a great benefit, to both the organization and to individuals.

 

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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.