Working With Nurses to Make Laboratory Systems Safer

labBoth nurses and laboratorians get frustrated with each other’s behavior. For example, nurses may not understand or follow certain procedures as outlined by the laboratory.

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James Hernandez, M.D.

In a recent article published in Clinical Laboratory News, James Hernandez, M.D., Associate Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, and Medical Director and Chair of the Division of Laboratory Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona, provides an overview of the working relationship between nurses and laboratory technicians.

Dr. Hernandez identifies fictional scenarios of nurses’ behavior that potentially could confound the laboratory and create conflict. He then analyzes each scenario to determine why nurse acted as he or she did and how to handles the situation effectively and gracefully.

Dr. Hernandez also references an article by Tony Kurec, MS, DLM (ASCP), and Karen L. Wyche, RN, MSN, who wrote about the common misunderstandings that occur between laboratorians and nurses for the Institute for Quality in Laboratory Medicine.

Kurec outlined five concerns laboratorians have about nurses:

  1. Nurses don’t fully appreciate quality control (QC) concerns of the laboratory—delays by the laboratory for QC reasons may be seen as “personnel incompetence, laziness of the staff, or improper specimen handling.”
  2. Nurses call the laboratory instead of looking up reports, and generally call too frequently.
  3. Salaries for nurses with a 2-year degree are higher than laboratorians’ with a 4-year degree, which can cause ill feelings.
  4. Nurses don’t understand the technical or workflow challenges in the laboratory. For example, a nurse may not appreciate the multiplicative effect of an error, such as mislabeling.
  5. Nurses may not consider laboratorians as fellow professionals.

Wyche raised 5 concerns nurses have about the laboratory:

  1. Perceived poor response time to the unit for specimen collection.
  2. Competency/skill level of phlebotomists.
  3. Changes in policies and procedures without proper notification.
  4. Poor turnaround time of STAT tests.
  5. Inability to coordinate multiple tests for the same patient.

According to Dr. Hernandez, "Laboratorians should consider working more closely with nursing colleagues to make our systems safer. Because laboratorians are adept at seeing the big picture, analyzing data, and seeing patterns and process flows, we complement our nursing colleagues, who see problems at the bedside. By strengthening the hand-offs between nursing and laboratorians, we understand and humanize each other. We begin to understand each other’s special challenges."

Read the full article to learn more about the working relationship between laboratorians and nurses.

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Kelley Schreiber

Kelley Schreiber is a Marketing Channel Manager at Mayo Medical Laboratories. She is the principle editor and writer of Insights and leads social media and direct marketing strategy. Kelley has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2013. Outside of work, you can find Kelley running, traveling, playing with her new kitten, and exploring new foods.