…what use was the rule?
No Country for Old Men — 2007
Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are the life blood of the laboratory. They tell us what we are doing and how to do it. The best ones even tell us why we are doing it. I would never suggest changing an SOP without validating any new process, verifying that any changes produce results at least as accurate, timely and cost effective of what came before. But rigid procedures can lead to monotony and lack of attention. And lack of attention can lead to errors. Sometimes just a tiny tweak, not in the procedure itself, but how you go about following it, can freshen up an otherwise mundane task.
In my work as a urologic anatomic pathologist, I spend several hours each day examining prostate biopsies. Now, I cannot vary that I have to look at each slide carefully, need to make decisions about presence or absence of malignancy, grade the tumors I observe, and record my findings. Those steps are immutable. And after 11 years, they could easily be cemented in stone. But I have discovered that making small changes in the way I go about each step gives me elasticity and prevents mind freeze.
What kind of changes am I talking about? First, I have to admit that there was one big one. For years I had been using the same microscope, actually one I brought with me from my old hospital position, an older ‘scope the hospital sold to me for a song. Last year my colleagues convinced me that an ergonomic microscope with a tilting head and eyepieces would go a long way toward preventing back and eye strain. And that’s important as I enter my fourth decade of peering down the ‘scope — something both my Lab Safety Officer and more importantly my Occupational Therapist wife, agree with.
So that was a pretty big variation, but most of the others have been small, simple and inexpensive. I changed the location of my microscope, putting it just a quarter rotation of my chair away from my desktop computer. As we have become integrated with an electronic medical record, I find myself more and more frequently logging into the computer to get some patient information from the EMR, so the proximity is a real time saver. And the change in “locale” made the work seem fresh again.
My latest initiative changes the way I dictate my cases. I have traditionally used dictation equipment using a foot pedal so that I can dictate in real time as I look through the ‘scope. We progressed from tape to digital a few years ago, but that didn’t change my style. However, I recently decided to record my findings in writing and then dictate at the end of each case. I developed a worksheet that makes it simple to record Gleason Score and extent of tumor in my prostate cancer cases. It’s a snap to read my findings off the worksheet after each case. Now I have a written record in case the dictation gets disrupted. And no complaints from the transcribers so far.
Even outside the lab, “SOPs”, can be useful, but find a way to keep things fresh! It may be adding nutmeg to a recipe (easy), finding a new route to the job (moderately challenging), or building a new house (insane). It will keep you rocking.
(Note: To my colleagues on the various lab listserves, feel free to distribute)
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