Opinion: Understanding Each Step of the Process

During an AABB inspection many years ago, I observed the Lead Assessor interacting with a medical technologist at the bench.  As expected, the Assessor asked in detail about the test and where the documentation and any teaching aids were located.  Most importantly, the tech was asked to explain the procedure step-by-step and if they knew WHY each step was done and how the various outcomes affected the test.

In my opinion, the WHY is the most important issue.  In our testing and processing, we are not baking a cake.  We do not need a mindless automaton to perform the steps without knowing what they are doing.  To get it right, the technologist must understand why he/she does each and everything—and what are the consequences for not following the procedure precisely.  If the staff member knows this, he/she has respect for the process and is more likely to adhere to the proper method.

In my interactions with my staff, I want to engage them in the importance of their testing to the patient’s care.  If they know that the result may affect the care, they may become more respectful of their work since they are part of the patient care team.

I want them to understand what each of the various results will mean to the patient, i.e. how he will be handled.  I give them updates about the patient’s condition.  A caring technologist is more likely to follow the steps properly.  They understand that a deviation from the process may adversely affect the patient.

To this day, I often go to the technologists and quiz them about what they are doing, e.g. why do they add a particular reagent, why the incubation time is 15 minutes versus 60 minutes.  I encourage them to check and recheck what they are doing if they have any doubts.  Working the bench is not a quiz or examination.  If they are uncertain, I want them to seek out the information, ask questions.  In fact, I tell them there is no shame in saying, “I don’t know”—but be certain to add, “I will find out what to do.”

Blood bank can be fatal to those who guess.  Each of us must know our individual limitations and seek the necessary knowledge.  In fact, many of my assessments are open-book.  They can use any resource in the blood bank or references on-line.  This is real life:  I discourage them from relying on memory if they are understand.  Our end point is the correct action.