Recently, CRI® had a webinar titled “Effective Laboratory Utilization: New Health Care Models” and somehow the word utilization made me think of STATs. It made me remember the years when I was right out of lab school and was often stressed out every time a STAT was dropped off in the lab. For this week, let’s talk about the lab’s responsibility in ensuring the correct utilization of STATs as well as strategies to help your lab meet the turnaround time requested.
When I was a brand new lab tech, I remember receiving an increasing number of STATs requested 15-20 minutes prior to shutting down for the day. It was quite obvious what the emergency was. This was not only poor test priority utilization, because some of those tests could very well have been ordered as routine and ran the next day, but it added to the level of stress already present. In retrospect, this situation could have been better handled by 1) assessing if the right priority was selected, setting limits if it wasn’t and 2) having a strategy to help the lab meet the request.
If the test priority is not a true STAT and can be ordered as routine, or ASAP, it is the lab’s responsibility to ask questions and make sure the right priority for the test has been ordered. If the priority is not the correct one, the lab has the right to change the priority to manage the workload.
For true STAT requests, the recommendation is to have a process to incorporate them into the workload. Labs use different ways to track STAT specimens from pre-analytic to post-analytic phase. Some of the methods used are colored stickers, which make it easier to locate/track specimens; this can also be done by having a designated STAT person, or a stop watch or other time tracking device setup when the specimen is first received. If the lab is a sophisticated one, it may even have a screen with the different priorities highlighted and how much time is left, very much like a flight screen at an airport.
Delivering the right result is as important as delivering the right result at the right time! In accomplishing this, labs have opportunities to assess if the correct priority was indeed selected to help manage the workload. It is also essential for labs to have a strategy in place to incorporate and track STATs from the pre-analytic to post-analytic phase to ensure test results are reported out on time.
What are some of the ways STATs are handled in your laboratory? Please share!