In my last post I reflected on the importance of promoting our profession and the field of lab medicine.  Over the next few weeks I’d like to present to you additional views on this topic that originate from key opinion leaders in clinical chemistry. 

Interview with AACC President David Koch, PhD, Director of Clinical Chemistry at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta:  

1. Clinical chemists are integral to the delivery of modern health care. Despite this, however, our profession is relatively unrecognized outside of the laboratory community. Why do you think this is so?
There are several causes for our relative lack of recognition, I believe:

  1. Our own tendency to gain all the satisfaction we need just from knowing we’ve done a good job in our laboratories, while disdaining any self-promotion.  
  2. But the location of our work is largely a step removed from the patient, so to gain recognition, some promotion is necessary.  We have to get out of our office or laboratory and interact with the providers who are in contact with the patients.
  3. We attract no attention in the media.  There are no exciting TV shows focused on the clinical laboratory.  Doctors and nurses are interviewed for news programs or get their pictures in the paper or on the internet; laboratorians rarely if ever do.  There are precious few books written about our profession and the crucial information we provide.  Few of us can articulate a compelling story about the contribution we make for our acquaintances like we need to be able to do.

2. What are the main disadvantages of being an unrecognized profession?
There are several disadvantages to the laboratory medicine profession for being unrecognized:

  1. Misdirected cost-containment pressures and reimbursement struggles.
  2. Our “product”, laboratory data, is treated as a commodity rather than a professional service.
  3. Policy makers and regulators decide what should be done without consulting us.
  4. Healthcare workers assume a laboratory result they can’t explain is the fault of the laboratory without bothering to ask us for any assistance.  Patient safety is thus at risk.

3. You have spent a lot of time promoting clinical chemistry outside of the lab. Can you briefly describe some of your work and its outcome so far?

  1. Attend rounds and other chances to interact with providers in the hospital, and get to know the key clinicians from the main patient care units utilizing our laboratory services.  When these people seek me out for input on a question they have regarding a patient’s laboratory result, I know I am getting somewhere. 
  2. Hold health fairs where laboratory tests are a major component of the service to participants.  The participants gain increased understanding of our role because they watch the laboratory testing process and obtain an explanation of their results.  Community leaders who attend develop appreciation for the commitment we have to a professional approach to our job and serving the public. 
  3. Engage national and state legislators about issues and proposed government action of importance to us.  These people and their staffers listen well and show evidence so far of taking our points of view into consideration.

4. What is your long-term goal and what still needs to be done to achieve it?
Broadly, to equip and inspire clinical chemists to engage others in dialogue about the vital role we play in patient care.  And, in so doing, to gain understanding of the value of the laboratory medicine professional on the part of the public.  To reach this challenging goal, educational efforts and resources need to be provided to laboratory medicine professionals.  Laboratory medicine organizations must engage in advocacy activities as often as necessary.  Any clinical chemists who have contacts in the media and entertainment world ideally will use those contacts to foster media output featuring stories about our contributions to health care and the well-being of people.

5. Can you name some other key individuals and/or organizations that are also working towards increasing recognition of our profession (both at a national and international level)?
The “Labs are Vital” program began 8 years ago and has had success publicizing the role laboratory professionals play in patient care. 
In the U.S., the “National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week” that occurs typically the last full week of April has as one of its goals increasing recognition for laboratory professionals within health care institutions and the media.
“Know Pathology” is a recent initiative of Pathology Awareness Australia Ltd. and is working to provide patients with information about laboratory results, including producing an effective TV ad.