Last month I attended an excellent conference presented by Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics. Sessions provided a wealth of information on a variety of topics, including molecular technology, patient safety, Six Sigma and LEAN management, the prevention and detection of laboratory errors, and opportunities for the lab of the future. A consistent theme throughout the event was that at the end of the day, the lab profession is about providing what’s best for the patient. One speaker talked about the importance of lab professionals becoming part of the team that touches the patient. Another discussed her belief that as the impact of diagnostics increases, labs will be required to take on a more consultative role with all principals involved. Still another speaker talked about the value of including patients in the reporting loop.

One area where patients want to be included sooner is in the reporting of lab test results. Many of us have been there. Your doctor orders a lab test and you wait anxiously for the results. And you wait. And you wait some more. A recent Los Angeles Times article concluded that patients should be able to get their test results faster.1 One physician quoted in the article described uncertainty as the worst disease in the world. He went on to say that waiting for lab results can be worse than knowing the worst.

Of course there are many reasons why it can take a seemingly long time to receive test results. Some tests are more labor intensive and require further examination and analysis by more than one expert. Sometimes the problem is simply the large number of test results the physician has to review each day. However, with the help of new technology, many patients are beginning to access their test results faster. One need only look at the many Web sites that patients can utilize to view their medical records, including test results. Most of these promise security and confidentiality, while providing a link between the patient and doctor.

And what does this mean for the clinical lab? It means that the demand for increased productivity and shorter turnaround times will increase. We’ll continue to look to new technology for answers, and more labs are expected to automate to reduce turnaround time.

In our new Lab Profile feature on page 28, read about how Athena Diagnostics utilizes Ensemble, a universal integration platform from InterSystems Corp. According to InterSystems’ managing director of application integration, Ensemble sends information directly to the patient, eliminating the need for patients to wait and call every day for test results.

Finally, in the same way that lab tests are about the patient, my job is often about the people. I met many dedicated and talented people at the Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics conference, including representatives from Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez, Calif; the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; Kings Daughters Hospital in Madison, Ind; Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff, Ark; and Laughlin Memorial Hospital in Greenville, Tenn. As former, present, and future patients, we can all take comfort in the fact that this is an industry of professionals dedicated to providing the information that will allow physicians to make the best diagnostic and treatment decisions.

Carol Andrews
[email protected]

1. Foreman J. The anxious wait for results. Los Angeles Times, November 22, 2004: F1