I happened to be visiting a microbiology lab in a large teaching hospital last year. We were shown all the assays they used to rapidly identify a pathogen from positive blood cultures: PCR assays, FIuorescent In-Situ Hybridisation (FISH). They had the works!
The range of tests available was very impressive, and would be the envy of most diagnostic microbiology laboratories.
But there was a catch… At 8pm in the evening, the microbiology department shut up shop and everybody went home. The blood culture analyser stood there completely untouched until 8am the next morning, including any bottles that flagged positive during this time.
So a blood culture that went positive at 9pm would be sitting in the analyser for at least 11 hours before any attempt was made to identify the pathogen.
This got me thinking!
It actually doesn’t matter that much how many fancy assays you have, or how much money your laboratory has. If you can’t get your workflow right then it all becomes a bit academic.
I am a big proponent of 24/7 staffing of microbiology laboratories, or at the very least the processing of positive blood cultures being done 24/7. It is after all one of the most important samples in the microbiology department. We have plenty of lesser importance!
Turnaround times generally don’t just include the actual analysis of the sample. More often than not, it includes storage time, transport/courier time, registration time, verification time, etc.
And then the final result has to be both received and acted on by a clinician. This communication step is also vitally important. There are so many steps, pre-analytical, analytical and post-analytical that contribute to the total turnaround time.
It is useful to do intermittent vertical timeline audits of your critical samples, to see where the delays are occurring, and then sort these out first before you consider fancy assays. And often such delays can be sorted without having to spend a lot of money. It might just be a case of relocating a blood culture analyser, or adding an extra courier run…
I am not against fancy assays, they have their place, but only as part of the whole process…