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Improving interprofessional communication in your clinical lab can lead to better patient outcomes

Mind the Gap: The Value of Building Relationships with Services Outside the Lab

Improving interprofessional communication in your clinical lab can lead to better patient outcomes

Photo portrait of Aaron K. Odegard, MS, MLS (ASCP) SM CM
Aaron K. Odegard, MS, MLS (ASCP) SM CM
Photo portrait of Aaron K. Odegard, MS, MLS (ASCP) SM CM

Aaron K. Odegard, MS, MLS (ASCP) SM CM, is laboratory quality coordinator at Baptist Health Jacksonville. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He received his master’s degree in biomedical sciences—molecular pharmacology and experimental therapeutics from the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. He is passionate about medical laboratory science and serves as the immediate past chair of the ASCP Council of Laboratory Professionals. He enjoys educating the public, students, and professionals on the topics of leadership, mentorship, and medical laboratory science through many platforms including: classrooms, local and regional meetings, and social media.

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Published:Dec 01, 2021
|4 min read
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The phrase “mind the gap” is used to alert travelers to the space between the platform and the train. This communication is key to ensure the safe boarding of passengers on route to their destinations. As health care and laboratory professionals, we want our patients to receive the correct diagnosis, board the train to recovery, and reach the best clinical outcomes. Interprofessional communication is the essential piece to prevent patients from falling into the gap between a correct diagnosis and the best clinical outcome.

An evidence-based analysis published in the Journal of Patient Safety estimated that preventable patient deaths in United States hospitals ranged from 210,000 to more than 400,000 per year from 2008 to 2011. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released a report in an effort to improve diagnostic processes and address the causes behind these errors. The 2015 report identified eight major goals toward reducing the rate of diagnostic errors, one of which was to facilitate more effective teamwork in diagnostic processes among health care professionals, patients, and their families. In health care, poor communication among allied health care teams can have severe impacts on patient outcomes.

Laboratory professionals can lead the charge toward better clinical outcomes by asking, “How can interprofessional relationships with services outside the laboratory help bridge the gap and lead to better patient outcomes? What laboratory-driven strategies can lab managers and leaders use to bridge the gap?” This article aims to answer these questions and outline key steps you can take to improve interprofessional communication in your lab.

Bridging the gap:

Encourage staff to consider laboratory roles beyond the bench

The role of the laboratory in patient care is quickly expanding beyond diagnostic testing. Laboratory professionals are needed in such roles as quality and education coordinators, point-of-care (POC) testing coordinators, and laboratory information system (LIS) specialists. All these roles interact with other services within the health care team presenting an opportunity to reinforce the importance of proper specimen collection, provide additional laboratory medicine education, and improve communication. Analogous to those with a PharmD, practitioners with a doctorate in clinical laboratory science (DCLS) can also play a crucial role by consulting with physicians on test selection, result interpretation, and patient education. This interprofessional communication improves patient care, reducing cost through the appropriate use of lab services.

ACTION ITEM: Encourage staff to consider roles outside of the laboratory. These roles provide opportunities for professional growth, to increase the visibility of the laboratory, and to actively work toward improving the role of the laboratory in clinical outcomes. Management roles are not for everyone, but there are other crucial roles that need aspiring leaders to propel the profession forward.

Introduce new lab professionals to other health care services early on in their training

The initial years when new medical laboratory scientists are entering the profession are a crucial time in career development. We can enact change by changing what new medical lab scientists are taught. Rather than educating the new generations with past practices, it is essential to incorporate innovative and collaborative problem-solving strategies that focus on diagnosing patients through interprofessional teams. The goal here is to build stronger laboratory teams that are able to better communicate with all members of the health care team.

ACTION ITEM: Coordinate with medical laboratory science program directors and educational directors/leaders from other services to establish an interprofessional week as part of student clinical rotations. Medical laboratory science students can spend time observing other services, such as nursing or radiology. These students will see firsthand how laboratory results impact the actions of health care providers. Spending time with other services will increase their awareness of all members of the health care team, creating a more patient-centered laboratory practice. These new medical lab professionals will then be able to bring their newfound understanding to their own areas of expertise, while also cultivating important interprofessional relationships.

Integrate interprofessional communication into your laboratory practice

As a laboratory leader, it’s your responsibility to create opportunities for professional growth for your frontline laboratory staff, including creating more opportunities to strengthen interprofessional communication between your laboratory and the large allied health team. This can be as simple as setting up observations of other areas, interprofessional simulation activities, or even bringing a member of your laboratory team to leadership meetings that involve other members of the health care team (e.g., antibiotic stewardship or LIS team meetings, or POC training sessions with nurses). This will provide your laboratory staff with more awareness of their role in the overall allied health care team.

ACTION ITEM: Invite nurses, physicians, and other health care workers into the laboratory for educational presentations. These professionals can describe their role in patient care and vice versa. Ensure these presentations demonstrate how the clinical lab integrates into patient care, including downstream effects of laboratory results. For example, partner with a medical service on presenting clinical case studies. Have a physician present the clinical presentation followed by a laboratory professional to present the lab findings. Build these crucial interprofessional relationships and widen your staff’s scope of their role on the team.

The bottom line

Interprofessional communication leads to better clinical outcomes. But there are other benefits too, including cost savings through proper test use, reducing waste, increasing the visibility of the laboratory, and smoother transitions when implementing new LIS/EMR hospital systems.

The medical laboratory science profession is counting on its leaders to actively build stronger teams that are able to not only communicate better but also empathize with all members of the health care team. Let’s keep moving forward and be the change that shapes our profession.