Volume 35 Number 6 | December 2021

Patient Safety Corner

Catherine Otto, PhD, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CMSHCMDLMCM, ASCLS Patient Safety Committee

Catherine OttoWe often think of advocacy within the context of lobbying for personnel licensure in our state legislatures or meeting with our Congressional representatives and senators to share our points of view regarding pending legislation or the need for more laboratory professionals to alleviate the personnel shortage. Although these activities are forms of advocacy, advocacy is much more than lobbying or speaking to one’s senator or representative. It is something that we do every day in our practice.

What is advocacy? According to Webster’s Dictionary, advocacy is “active support, as of a cause”1 and an advocate is “one who pleads in another’s behalf”1. As practicing medical laboratory professionals, we advocate for our patients on a daily basis, and when we do so, it improves patient safety.

As a profession—especially members of our profession whose efforts provide information for diagnosis and treatment—we can only be evaluated by other members of the profession. It is our responsibility to advocate for our patients and for all aspects of their safety with respect to laboratory testing. Our Code of Ethics identifies the principles and standards we practice as medical laboratory professionals. We have a duty to the patient, a duty to colleagues and the profession, and a duty to society; within each of these duties are specific descriptions of using advocacy to fulfill our duties.

Duty to the Patient

Our first and primary duty is to the patient: “placing the welfare of the patient above one’s needs and desires and ensuring that each patient receives the highest quality of care according to current standards of practice”2. High quality laboratory services are then defined using patient safety quality attributes: “safe, effective, efficient, timely, equitable, and patient-centered”2; stated in our Code of Ethics and described in our position paper, Patient Safety and Clinical Laboratory Science.3

Following our standards of practice on a daily basis (e.g., performing and analyzing our quality control results prior to analyzing patient specimens) fulfills our basic duty to our patients, however, fulfilling all of our duties under the Code of Ethics requires us to do more. Each time we speak to another healthcare professional to request clinical information about a patient (e.g., is the patient experiencing bleeding or signs of an infection), request recollection of a specimen because it does not meet requirements, or suggest a more appropriate laboratory test to order, we are advocating for the individual patient and to improve overall patient safety. We are “pleading” (i.e., representing or advocating for) the interests of the patient. Remembering that we are advocating for the patient when we speak to other healthcare professionals changes the focus of our conversation from one of potential confrontation to collaboration. We are all on the same team to serve our patients.

Duty to Our Colleagues

Our second duty is to our colleagues, those within our profession, plus the rest of the healthcare team, and to the profession itself2. Taking responsibility for our role on the healthcare team by sharing our expertise with other team members by advocating for patients is fulfilling our duties to our colleagues. It is not just a privilege to serve on an interprofessional team (e.g., Blood Utilization Review Committee, Laboratory Test Utilization, or a Quality Improvement Project) at our workplace, it is our professional duty to our patients, our colleagues, and our profession. When there is a request to participate on an interprofessional team, volunteer! Better yet, don’t wait for an invitation, but seek out the opportunity and submit your name.

Duty to Society

Our third duty is our duty to society. We as medical laboratory professionals are charged with serving as “patient advocates”2. Anytime we improve access to laboratory services (e.g., add early morning or evening hours for specimen collection) or ensure that all individuals have access to laboratory test information (e.g., share one of our ASCLS Patient Safety Tips with patients, their families, or other healthcare providers) we are advocating for all patients and improving the quality of healthcare for society.

Medical laboratory professionals are scientists and patient advocates. Every day we have opportunities to be advocates for patients, our colleagues, our profession, and society.

  1. Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary. Advocacy and Advocate. Houghton Mifflin Company. 1994, p. 81
  2. ASCLS. Code of Ethics, 2016 https://ascls.org/code-of-ethics/. Last accessed September 28, 2021.
  3. ASCLS. Position Paper: Patient Safety and Clinical Laboratory Science. 2015 https://ascls.org/patient-safety-and-clinical-laboratory-science-position-paper/. Last accessed September 28, 2021.

Cathy Otto is Professor and Program Director, MS-Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Rutgers University, in Newark, New Jersey.