No one gives a second thought to the microbiology (or laboratory) request form when we are reviewing all our processes, and looking for efficiency and quality improvements.
However the humble request form and how it is structured is an extremely important factor with regards to influencing both the quality and quantity of test ordering.
If you have a request form with dozens of tick boxes present, each one representing a different test, you are making it very easy for the laboratory user to request a lot of tests, many of which may be either unnecessary or inappropriate.
On the other hand, if your request form is essentially a blank sheet of paper on which microbiological tests need to be pro-actively documented, it encourages test requesting only where a clear rationale exists. The downside of this approach is that the requestor may forget to include a test that should really have been done because it wasn’t visible on the form to trigger his/her memory.
There is no correct answer of course to what is the best way to structure a request form. However my personal preference is for the blank page approach, because it encourages the requestor to think carefully about what they are requesting, and to focus on the problem at hand.
However I suspect that as electronic requesting becomes more common so too will tick box request forms, as this style very much suits electronic requesting and the necessity to “code” the test requests (Thus the importance of making clinical details a pre-requisite for completing an electronic request).
Next time you see a microbiology/laboratory request form in your area, look at it carefully to see how it is structured. Is it a “Tick box” form or a “Blank Page”?
It matters, and more than you think….