Letters to The Editor
The Benefits of Lab Visits
Dear Patient Safety Focus Editors,
My staff and I read the article “Disconnection from Patients and Care Providers” (CLN, April 2009, p. 14) with great interest and wanted to share our story regarding this topic.
Our lab seemed to have a dark cloud hanging over it. We didn’t know if we should attribute this gloom to the economy or just the daily stresses of getting the work out. Whatever the case, there was an increasing amount of talk and grumbling in the lab about mundane things like dress codes and on-call duty. In other words, conversations were often not focused on patients.
After reading the article, we were inspired to invite patients to the lab and have them share their experiences so that our employees could connect a specimen with a face. We worked with our Office of Care Transformation to identify patients or family members who would be willing to come in and talk about their experiences with their lab tests. We were open to all stories, both positive and negative.
Although her liver transplant was failing,
this patient (seated) visited the Core Lab.
She recently had a second transplant and is doing well.
The lab staff surprised her with flowers.
We received many enthusiastic responses from patients and family members willing to participate and scheduled eight visits. We matched patients with lab sections based on the type of testing the patient had. For example, a heart transplant patient with many biopsies was matched with anatomic pathology; a liver transplant patient who had hepatitis testing was matched with immunology; a patient with septicemia was matched with microbiology; and a cancer patient was matched with the cancer center laboratory. Flyers announcing the visits were distributed throughout the lab and everyone was welcome to attend. The response was overwhelming. Not only did all of the technologists in the particular section attend, but staff from other sections came, as well as residents, faculty, pathologists, managers, support personnel, and administrators. After the initial visits, the word spread and attendance swelled.
While some patients spoke freely and others had written their thoughts, each patient shared their hospital encounters and included specifics about their lab tests. Without exception, each patient told their story and thanked the lab employees for their work. The patients also very generously shared personal information while telling their stories. Some brought journals and photo albums that they passed around to the group. One of the patients said, “This is my life and you are a big deal to me. I have to honor everyone who helped me. I have to honor you for what you do for me.” Another patient, who had 105 lab tests ordered in one month, said, “My body has secrets that I don’t even know. But you know, and you unlock those secrets.”
A grateful lung transplant patient (dark jacket)
poses with the happy staff of the molecular lab
All of the patients’ stories were very moving, and while listening, our lab employees rode a roller coaster of emotions with the patients. They laughed and cried together. Our employees even asked questions that the patients never hesitated to answer. One employee said, “We see names come through the lab on a regular basis, and you are our patients, too. But we never see the actual person, and we thank you for coming to see us.”
We ended each session with a group photo and everyone wanted to be in the picture with the patient. Staff members took their photos and posted them on their bulletin boards. The experience created a palpable sense of community in the lab. For weeks following these sessions, we got comments from employees saying how good the experience had been. Our employees’ focus returned to the patient.
In closing, we would like to share this advice with CLN readers. If you are still skeptical about bringing patients into the lab, trust us. Your skepticism will evaporate the moment you meet your first patient and hear their story.
Cathy Groen, MT(ASCP)
Emory Medical Laboratory
Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Ga
Corinne Fantz, PhD
Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Quality Lead for Clinical Pathology
Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Ga.