This week is National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week and National Environmental Laboratory Professionals Week. APHL is honoring the many individuals working public health and environmental laboratories around the world. Stay tuned for blog posts this week featuring the work of many of those unsung heroes working to protect the public’s health.
By Sadira Daher, Senior Specialist, Quality Systems, APHL
State Public Health Laboratories have been facing serious financial cutbacks. Many laboratories have had to reduce staff by nearly 25%, affecting testing services. Lab directors are concerned about having difficulty maintaining services, which could potentially hinder the state’s outbreak investigation, emergency response, surveillance and public health prevention programs.
In response to these hardships, APHL and CDC developed the Laboratory Efficiencies Initiative (LEI). The goal of LEI is to help labs maintain their public health testing services despite decreased funding in an effort to build a sustainable public health laboratory system in the United States.
Through LEI, representatives from public health labs, APHL and CDC have met to begin implementing a framework for an efficient data gathering and reporting process; to identify models to improve purchasing of laboratory equipment and supplies; and to provide input on ideas on methods of improving the delivery of public health laboratory services.
Many laboratories already have processes in place to improve efficiencies. Some examples include participation in Lean activities and the creation of a group of laboratories as a consortium with neighboring states. The laboratories within the consortium stay in touch through scheduled periodic conference calls where they can exchange ideas and discuss processes and practices that have been working well.
The consortium has also been useful for education and training. The labs have set up training workshops together and have shared their programs with other states through a variety of modalities. They are keeping track of what is going on in their region through this increased communication.
The strengthening relationships between the labs have made it easier for them to share services as necessary. For example, when a lab had unexpected problems with some of its equipment, it could easily send specimens for testing to a neighboring state.
Another laboratory used Lean to identify inefficiencies in its receiving process for newborn screening specimens. The laboratory addressed the problems and was able to decrease turn-around time. On the first day of implementing the new process, a newborn screening sample arrived after what had previously been the cut-off time for processing, but because the new more efficient system was in place, it was processed. The test returned an abnormal result which was able to be reported to the baby’s pediatrician a day earlier than if they had used their previous process.
An important part of the LEI is the sharing of experiences and lessons-learned with other public health laboratories.