Context.—

Increased band neutrophils in blood smear differential counts (“bandemia”) are entrenched in medicine as a flag for sepsis. However, laboratory hematology experts have long advocated for discontinuation of reporting bands separately from segmented neutrophils because of poor sensitivity and specificity, poor interobserver agreement, and availability of alternative biomarkers for sepsis.

Objective.—

To describe band neutrophil reporting practices and reproducibility of band classification among laboratories participating in the College of American Pathologists (CAP) proficiency testing (PT) program.

Design.—

A survey questionnaire was distributed to hematology PT participants. A subsequent morphologic challenge included 12 preselected cell identifications of segmented neutrophils, bands, and metamyelocytes, and a 100-cell manual differential count of a digitally scanned blood smear.

Results.—

Among laboratories that reported manual differentials, most respondents reported bands (4554 of 5268; 86.4%). Only 3222 of 4412 respondents (73.0%) provided band reference ranges. Though participants classified “easy” band neutrophils well (78.0%–98.3%), categorization of cell identifications for “moderate” and “difficult” bands was poor (3.1%–39.0% of laboratories), with classification instead as segmented neutrophils. This pattern was seen regardless of laboratory demographic characteristics. Marked variability in band counts was observed on the 100-cell differential count for both CAP PT participants and CAP Hematology and Clinical Microscopy Committee (HCMC) members (coefficients of variation, 55.8% and 32.9%, respectively). Variability was significantly improved when segmented and band neutrophils were grouped together (coefficients of variation, 6.2% and 5.0%, respectively).

Conclusions.—

Most CAP PT–participating laboratories report band counts, many without reference ranges. The survey confirms significant interlaboratory variability of band enumeration when bands are separately identified from segmented neutrophils. This study reaffirms the CAP Hematology and Clinical Microscopy Committee's strong recommendation to group segmented and band neutrophils together in manual differential counts.

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Author notes

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Pozdnyakova and Bhargava contributed equally.

The authors have no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.

Competing Interests

All authors are past or present members of the College of American Pathologists Hematology and Clinical Microscopy subcommittee.

Supplementary data