By Douglas Beigel, CEO, COLA

In October, during the week of lab-related events COLA hosted in Baltimore, we heard a number of inspirational stories related to lab medicine and the impact it has on patient safety. But during a week of great stories, one story stood out from among the rest.

Elaine Edwards, clinic lab manager at Mercy Convenient Care in Joplin, Missouri, told us how her lab recovered after being leveled by a devastating tornado. It was a moving story–one made especially more poignant as the East Coast now recovers from Hurricane Sandy.

As I write this, the cost of the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy is still being calculated. Fortunately, COLA weathered the storm well, and continued to be in a position to help our labs remain CLIA-compliant. Of the 10 labs scheduled for surveys during the period the storm crept along the east coast, 9 surveys were performed as scheduled. The only impacted appointment was quickly rescheduled.

I hope labs that were adversely impacted by the storm will keep these five must-remember tips in mind as they deal with the aftermath of Sandy or any disruptive natural event of similar magnitude in the future. If these sound familiar to you, they are. COLA first circulated these suggestions a year ago after Hurricane Irene hit. Unfortunately, recent events have made them timely once again.

• Remove temperature-sensitive materials, including reagents, calibrators, or controls, from refrigerators and freezers affected by a loss of power. If power loss was for a short period of time, move to an alternate refrigerator or freezer. Styrofoam coolers, with a thermometer for monitoring temperatures, may be used for short periods, as long as the required temperature is maintained. Please keep appropriate records of the temperature during these time periods. If power loss was for an extended period of time, and the materials were out of temperature range, the integrity of that product may be suspect. We suggest that you call the manufacturer for guidance in order to assure that quality is not compromised.

• If your lab stores, blood products for transfusion, please review your temperature graphs if the storage refrigerator lost power at any time. Follow your written procedures to store blood in alternate refrigerators or containers if necessary. Do not transfuse any refrigerated products that reached ten degrees Celsius.

• Monitor your operating conditions such as temperature and humidity. If your instruments are running on back-up power, but your air conditioning is not operating due to power loss, be sure that the operating environment is within the range stated by the manufacturer.

• If you are using a Laboratory Information System, you should have procedures in place that provide for adequate back-up of the system in case of power failure. When power is back up, be sure to check your system data for completeness and integrity. When using an LIS, you must have manual methods to back up the requisitions, reports, instrument tapes and test logs. Instrument tapes, patient test logs and manual reports must be retained for 2 years unless scanned into the computer once back on line.

• Follow your manufacturer’s instructions for restarting equipment that went down due to a power outage. Contact your manufacturer if you have any concerns about the systems. Run quality control following a prolonged power outage.

To these original five recommendations I would now add a sixth: Whenever possible, leverage technology in a way that facilitates recovery even before the storm hits.

For example, COLA’s clients have access to COLAcentral, our online portal. COLAcentral enables our labs to upload all important documents and records for cloud storage. Thus, in the event of a catastrophic event like Sandy, documents stored on COLAcentral can be recovered even if the originals are lost.

No one can control when or where a weather-related disaster will occur. But as the lab in Joplin heroically demonstrated, recovery is possible. As impacted labs recover from Sandy, they should also prepare themselves for the next disruptive weather event. Let’s ensure that the lab community collectively learns from its experiences. The patients we serve are counting on us.

[Source: COLA]