Volume 36 Number 3 | June 2022

Patient Safety Corner

Stacy Walz, PhD, MT(ASCP), ASCLS Patient Safety Committee Chair

Stacy WalzAccording to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one definition of the word, community, is “a unified body of individuals, with a common characteristic or interest.” This “interest” could be professional, political, social, historical, or economic.

In the context of patient safety, let’s consider community from several angles.

First, the ASCLS Patient Safety Committee is a community of individuals who have a professional interest in knowledge, activities, and research related to the laboratory professional’s role in keeping patients safe. Within this community, we regularly discuss the topic, create products and articles we can use to disseminate knowledge to a broader audience, and encourage our colleagues to apply patient safety principles in their everyday work, whether that be at the bench, in leadership roles, or in education.

“You’re ‘preaching to the choir,’ as they say, if you contain your knowledge and expertise just within the laboratory community. Let’s shout it from the rooftops instead: ‘The laboratory community is essential for patient safety!’”

Second, the healthcare community, encompassing frontline clinicians, nurses, allied health professionals, administrators, and housekeeping, among others, have a shared characteristic of keeping each patient’s best interests at the heart of all they do. All the healthcare quality aims intertwine here, including patient-centeredness, timeliness, efficiency, effectiveness, safety, and equity. Strategies to build a sense of community might include team-building exercises, standardized communications, positive recognition, and dedicated interprofessional practice.

Third, there is a community surrounding the individual patient. This community might include a spouse, children, parents, friends, co-workers, and/or other relatives. The patient’s personal community has a vested interest in that patient’s health and well-being and may directly connect with members of the healthcare community to achieve shared goals and outcomes.

We as laboratory professionals have the opportunity to integrate our expertise and assistance in the broader healthcare community and with our patients’  communities, in a variety of ways. We can be that compassionate phlebotomist who makes the patient feel more comfortable during a time of uncertainty or fear. We can create laboratory reports, for both clinician and patient, that provide context, appropriate reference ranges, explanations of results with links to additional, vetted information, and guidance for additional or confirmatory testing. We can work with teammates in other healthcare disciplines to create algorithms and decision trees for laboratory testing in an effort to improve timeliness, efficiency, and equity. We can serve on interdisciplinary committees charged with dissecting medical errors that occur at one’s workplace and devising solutions to prevent that type of error from happening again.

We as a community of laboratory professionals must also acknowledge, however frustrating it may be to do so, that we are likely not going to be invited or asked to be at the table or on the team. We must invite ourselves; insist on being at the table or on the team, especially since we are often “armed” with boatloads of data and evidence that can make a huge difference in the lives of patients, the activities of our colleagues, and in the bottom line of the institution’s finances. You’re “preaching to the choir,” as they say, if you contain your knowledge and expertise just within the laboratory community. Let’s shout it from the rooftops instead: “The laboratory community is essential for patient safety!”

Stacy Walz is Department Chair, Clinical Laboratory Sciences at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas.