Labra-Cadabra: Getting The Right Laboratory Result to the Right Patient at the Right Time

test-tubesIt is a Monday morning ritual. Every week at about 10 a.m. a head pops into my office saying “We’re here.” The head belongs to one of our Human Resource professionals, leading a group of dazed people, mostly young, predominantly female. These are the new recruits, the medical assistants, the billers, the nurse professionals, that are joining the UroPartners team. They are spending the day in our business office next door, being oriented, filling out forms and taking online courses on safety, HIPAA and other snooze inducing topics. The march across the parking lot to the lab is their only glimpse of sunshine for the day.

Why do we bring them over? With rare exception, these people are not future employees of the lab. They are hired to work in one of the 15 or 20 UroPartners offices spread across the metro Chicago area. But there are things I want them to know about the lab, about how we work, and I think the best way to get our point across is with some real face time and a lab tour.

Sometimes we start with a little history of the UroPartners; what we are, where we are, how the group functions.  Then we move on to lab specifics, beginning with how lab tests are ordered in the doctors’ offices and transmitted to us via our shared electronic medical record. It is at this point that I begin harping on my main theme, the proper identification of all specimens. My mantra, repeated at each stop on the tour, “each specimen label needs two identifiers, label the container, NOT the lid.” Barb swears I repeat this in my sleep.

I explain that the patients’ blood, urine and biopsy specimens are picked up from the various doctors’ offices every evening by our courier company.  I always see some eyes roll when I explain that the lab day starts at 5:15 a.m. when the specimens get to our door. Yes, we are an early morning bunch, but that is what it takes to get results out to the office in a timely fashion. By 6 in the morning, the place is really buzzing.

We walk through the lab, and I point out our various testing areas:

  • Histology, where biopsy specimens are converted to thin tissue sections on glass slides awaiting our pathologists’ diagnoses.
  • Microbiology, the olfactory challenging area where we look for bacteria causing urinary tract infections and also do bacterial cultures that help limit the risk of infection in prostate biopsy patients.
  • Hematology and Chemistry, the home of blood counts, PSA measurement (you know how strongly I feel about that) and other important blood tests.
  • Cytology/FISH, studying urine specimens in simple and more complex ways for the lurking cells of bladder cancer.

In each area, I give an idea of our turn-around time–the length of time from when we receive a specimen to when a report goes into the medical record. I explain how an abnormal result on one test can “reflex” to another. And I am always reminding about proper specimen labeling. We end the tour with introductions to our laboratory administrative team, the people who make the phone calls and ask the questions when something we receive doesn’t seem quite right.

How much of this information soaks in? Sometimes our newbies ask questions, their eyes shine, and I know they are listening. With other groups there is more of a blank, this doesn’t relate to my new job, look on their faces. My goal on orientation day is to convince everyone that sometime in there UroPartners career they will interact with the lab, and working together we can do what we need for our patients and providers. No magic about it!

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