Clinical laboratory processes that require cooperation among geographically distinct sections often face challenges. We describe these challenges as related to the Gram staining of cerebrospinal fluid, a key test in the management of patients with suspected central nervous system infections, and our attempts to improve quality outcomes.
To evaluate multiple tools and strategies for their effectiveness in optimizing the turnaround time of tests sharing a specimen or workflow.
Over the course of 5 years, the turnaround time of cerebrospinal fluid Gram stain was studied at one of the largest children's health systems in the US. Baseline data showed suboptimal compliance to targeted turnaround times. A conventional approach to process standardization, and 2 innovative tools that facilitate horizontal integration were applied to the main campus laboratory as follows: a daily huddle and a novel electronic communication application that was interfaced with the laboratory information system. Turnaround time and its variation were assessed. Two other hospital laboratories within the health system that did not undergo these quality interventions served as controls.
Standardization of processes reduced the variability of turnaround time but only minimally shortened it. In contrast, an interteam daily huddle that monitored key quality metrics together with the communication application, improved turnaround time significantly and sustainably.
Communication strategies involving a physical or virtual gathering of laboratory representatives encourage horizontal communication and improve turnaround times. These tools are generally applicable and could be used to improve other processes in healthcare, especially those where a workflow is shared between 2 geographically distinct areas of a health system.
The authors have no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.
Cao and Mutandiro are currently in the Department of Pathology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.