“The paradox of the error free laboratory…”

A lot of people strive to make their microbiology laboratory “error free”. Whilst this could be said to be an admirable goal, maybe we need to think about what we wish for a little further..

A progressive laboratory by definition is going to make errors. You cannot introduce a new software system into the lab without making mistakes. You cannot develop a new assay without going through a teething process. You cannot develop an electronic requesting system without going through a lot of trial and error first.

Making changes to a laboratory are necessary so that the systems are of better quality and efficiency in the long-term. I would be concerned about the laboratory that believed that mistakes should be avoided at all costs.

Of course we should try and anticipate where errors might happen, as well as analysing ones that have occurred in order to reduce the chances of them happening again. Pilots, validations and quality control processes also reduce the chances of any potential errors occurring or impacting on the patient.

The same applies for complaints from laboratory users. When introducing new laboratory systems and technologies, there will always be a few users who are unhappy with the change, for various reasons, not necessarily microbiological… Part of our job is to educate users about the reasons for introducing new laboratory systems and making their expectations of the process realistic.

So maybe the next time your boss comes to you and says “Congratulations, so far this year we have had no errors, and no complaints from laboratory users”, maybe the response should be “So what are we doing wrong?….”


p.s. Note that within the website I am writing a short personal blog on my experiences and observations in Paris. Click here to access. Please feel free to have a read from time to time.

p.p.s Note that that this website www.microbiologymatters.com is specially adapted for use on smart phones. Let me know if you have any problems.


4 thoughts on ““The paradox of the error free laboratory…”

  1. This is so true Michael – like the lessons we attempt to teach our children, it is not the making of mistakes but the fact we need to learn from those mistakes to avoid the same ones happening again. More is often learnt from errors and the analysing of those to find solutions than is learnt from a mistake free environment. We should only be concerned if mistakes and errors are recurrent problems or if nothing is learnt from them.

    1. Yes, I seem to make mistakes on virtually a daily basis. In fact I may even be an expert at it… One of the worst mistakes I have made recently was leaving New Zealand, but that is life!

  2. Agree 100%! Suppose its human nature to want to have a spotless error record or 0 complaint. People don’t seem to appreciate that the clinician appreciates an admission of a mistake just as much as getting a correct result.

    1. Thanks Sharona, and that is the paradox, the more cautious you are, the less likely you are to innovate and modernise the laboratory!


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