“Something for the weekend?”

I know it is difficult to believe, but patients tend to be just as sick on Saturday and Sunday as they are from Monday to Friday.

I am not sure if the concept of the “weekend” is secondary to religion or the industrial revolution. Regardless of its origins, in healthcare facilities throughout the world, the clinical service that is provided at the end of the week is reduced somewhat. Weekends are good for society, but not so good for patients…

And the weekend is not always just two days. Add on a Public Holiday Monday and the weekend can stretch to three days. Over Christmas, New Year and Easter, the “weekend” is often four days. Four days is a long time if you are sick.

In clinical microbiology laboratories everywhere, molecular testing traditionally never happened at the weekend. The molecular department happily shut up shop on Friday afternoon, and re-opened again on Monday morning. In times gone by, this was due to the rather specialised nature of the testing, and also the relatively slow turnaround times.

Take the following hypothetical scenario, which you may be familiar with…

It is the evening before the Christmas break. A cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) sample comes in to the microbiology laboratory from a patient in ICU with meningoencephalitis. A viral PCR panel is requested to try and ascertain the cause of the patient’s symptoms. However because it is the weekend coming up, followed by two public holidays, it will be 5 (long) days before the PCR is performed.

A viral CSF PCR result can have the following positive effects on patient management:

  • A negative (HSV) result can allow empirical therapies such as acyclovir to be discontinued, or in the case of a positive result, the dose to be optimised.
  • A positive result can prevent further investigations, such as MRI scanning, and  other “exotic” laboratory tests being carried out on the CSF.
  • Can expedite discharge, when diagnosis is known.

The long weekend progresses, and the microbiology department continues to analyse significant volumes of relatively low value specimens. e.g. ear swabs, peri-anal abscess swabs, vaginal swabs, swabs from leg ulcers etc, etc. Yet sitting there patiently in the fridge is that CSF, probably the most important sample in the laboratory, and the one which could have the most immediate and profound effect on patient management. It looks on enviously at all the attention the other samples in the laboratory are getting!

This model doesn’t really cut the mustard anymore… We need to utilise the new (user friendly and rapid turnaround) molecular platforms (Cepheid Genexpert, BD Max as examples), so that we can offer a laboratory service at the weekend which has a genuine clinical impact.

Things are changing however. Molecular testing is slowly being introduced at the weekend in many microbiology laboratories. C. difficile testing and Influenza/RSV PCR are a couple of examples. But this progress takes time, and sometimes it takes more time than it should do.

We need to “disrupt” traditional weekend work at the clinical microbiology laboratory… On the weekend, put those ear and vaginal swabs back in the fridge, and find a way (somehow) to take the CSF out!


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4 thoughts on ““Something for the weekend?”

  1. Totally agree! Staff trained in molecular biology can allow the lab to fully utilize the molecular approaches available in microbiology. They help to keep the price of molecular test down by implementing home made or complex multi-step tests. The lower price is also important for the adoption of a new test by the healthcare system.

    But you need an alternative for weekends.

    We have Filmarray units installed in all our labs for urgent weekend samples for respiratory viruses. These are sample-in/result-out devices that any lab tech can operate and interpret. On workdays, respiratory samples are analysed with more affordable PCR panels 🙂

    CSFs are always analysed by Filmarray due to their high priority.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I am interested in the name of the filmarray you use so I can have a look at it. As far as I am aware, they are used very little in NZ.

      1. We have a single unit
        The unit costs approx €30k, the panels approx €180/pc.

        A new device is the Eplex
        But covers just respiratory viruses so far.

        For routine molecular samples (respiratory viruses & STI) we use the Anyplex/Allplex test. We are considering using it for the GI samples as well because all assays run on the same thermal protocol.

        Kind regards,

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