Diagnostic errors represent a prominent issue for patient safety.  In an effort to improve accuracy in patient diagnosis, recent recommendations from the Institute of Medicine suggest that increased emphasis should be placed on teamwork at both the interprofessional and intraprofessional levels.1  Creating mechanisms to strengthen communication between all members of the health care team can yield a more precise diagnosis and better coordination of patient care.

Teamwork within the laboratory can have a dramatic impact on patient outcomes.  Diagnosis is partially dependent upon the expedient release of laboratory test results, transmission of critical values, as well as effective communication both within and between laboratory departments.  Creating an environment that promotes teamwork between phlebotomy, technical areas such as chemistry and hematology, and pathology is vital to ensuring that healthcare providers get the information needed to make an accurate and timely diagnosis.

It is equally important that laboratory practitioners build strong working relationships with physicians, nursing staff, other allied health professionals, and patients.  One study found that failure to follow up on test results and poor communication between members of the health care team were leading factors in the delay of diagnosis and treatment of outpatients.2  Medical laboratory professionals become valuable resources in the team approach to diagnosis through technical consultation and the dissemination of information regarding current test methodologies and protocols.  The teamwork approach to diagnosis should also engage patients and their families.1  The use of patient portals that allow access to laboratory test results, as well as the education of patients regarding the utilization and interpretation of common laboratory tests, encourages valuable feedback with respect to the patient perspective of the diagnostic process.

Laboratory professionals should embrace opportunities to utilize their unique skill set through collaboration. Active participation of the laboratory in the diagnostic process enhances patient care, while increasing awareness and respect for the laboratory profession.  Although it forces some medical laboratory professionals out of their comfort zone, the potential benefit to patient safety cannot be denied.

  1. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.   Improving Diagnosis in Health Care.  Washington, D.C.:  The National Academy Press.
  1. Giardina, T.D., King, B.J., Ignaczak, A., Paull, D.E., Hoeksema, L., Mills, P.D., Neily, J., Hemphill, R.R., and Singh, H. (2013). Root cause analysis reports help identify common factors in delayed diagnosis and treatment of outpatients.  Health Affairs32(8), 1368-75.

About The Author

Pamela Meadows is a member of the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) Patient Safety Committee and Past-President of the West Virginia Society for Clinical Laboratory Science.  She has twenty-three years of experience as a clinical laboratory practitioner and is currently an Associate Professor in the Clinical Laboratory Sciences Department at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.  Prior to teaching, she spent five years in laboratory supervision and point-of-care testing oversight. 

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