Knowing Your Technical Staff

As a transfusion medicine physician, I was always being called to make decisions at all times when I was on-call.  This could be for qualifying donors, therapeutic apheresis, or most commonly to analyze complex immunohematology situations and transfusion reactions.

I had to make decisions on data that was presented to me by my staff on the phone.  I had to rely on the technical staff performing the test.  If I made a decision on their findings and their findings were incorrect, I was still responsible for the error as head of the department.

Nowadays with a blood bank computer system, I could remotely access the data as it appeared in the computer.  Still, how could I be sure that it was correct?

Based on my many years of experience, I have learned that I needed to know the capabilities of each staff member and to what extent I could rely on their results.  Not everyone could do complex cases.

I also listened to how they presented the data to me.  If it was disorganized or if they sounded uncertain, that was a red flag that something was wrong and I should be very careful about using the results.  In such cases, I told the staff member to call a senior person to repeat the work.  Of course, I did this in a delicate, face-savings way not to hurt the staff’s feeling.  I usually told them to collect a new specimen and have a second senior person to repeat the workup.

I also had to know the context of the workload at the time of the consultation.  Were there shortages of staff, were the staff stressed out, was there too much work for them to properly perform?  In those situations, I would authorize additional staff to come in and repeat the work.  I was very worried when outside hospital staff used to scream at my staff (usually junior doctors) and upset them.  In the emotional distress, they could make a dangerous mistake.  One of my roles was to serve as a counselor and de-stress my staff.

In summary, if you do not feel your staff can handle the work properly, don’t rely on the output.  Repeat the work, defuse the stress, fix the workload, etc.  As the transfusion medicine physician, it is also your neck on the line.  You are responsible to determine if you can trust the results to make a medical judgment.