Monthly Archives: May 2024

“A Smorgasbord of Microbiology”

I was fortunate enough to have attended the ECCMID conference in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago, the so-called “Glastonbury” of microbiology conferences. (it is just the drugs that are different…). In general, the conference venue wasn’t great, but the industry exhibition was very impressive, a massive well-lit hall with a true smorgasbord of microbiology tests & platforms available. There were literally hundreds of stands offering a vast array of products. Some of the stands were very flashy affairs, demonstrating fully functioning microbiology platforms. Most importantly, some were even offering free coffee!, although we all know there is no such thing as a “free lunch”. Microbiology is big business now. It can’t have been cheap to hire the floor space at ECCMID, so it must be worth their while.

Healthcare in general is becoming ever more expensive to fund. There are good reasons for this. There is so much more that we can do now than even a generation ago. Stem cell transplants, CAR-T therapy, new anti-cancer drugs, minimally invasive cardiac procedures (e.g. TAVI) to name but a few. In addition, we have a lot more elderly people. Good healthcare and its associated cost will keep a patient alive, who will then inevitably present later in life with further health issues to manage. Spending on healthcare undoubtedly improves life expectancy, but there is a ceiling on life expectancy and there is a law of diminishing returns which eventually kicks in…

With regards to microbiology, there is no difference really. There are so many more things we can offer in a microbiology lab which we could not offer even 20 years ago. Multi-plex & rapid turnaround PCRs, 16s RNA sequencing, metagenomics are a few examples. There are more antibiotics to perform susceptibilities on, and we can now perform both phenotypic and genotypic susceptibility testing. There are a lot more infectious conditions we can now effectively diagnose, usually with PCR based methods. We are also required to spend a lot more money on good quality assurance frameworks, and rightly so, it’s critically important! The landscape has changed out of all recognition in the microbiology lab. A generation ago, it was mainly culture-based bacteriology. Times have changed

All of this means that diagnostic stewardship plays an increasingly important role in the microbiology laboratory, if we are to have any hope of limiting costs whilst providing good value to the clinicians and patients. What tests and platforms should we have in the laboratory, and which patients should we perform these tests on? Personally, I think diagnostic stewardship should be a key component and focus of the jobs of both clinical microbiologists and laboratory managers alike.

“Diagnostic Stewardship is a never-ending process…”

When wandering around the industry exhibition hall, it is easy to get caught up in the euphoria and hype; “I’ll have one of those, and I’ll take that as well”, but there is now an almost infinite array of things that a microbiology lab can have… The key is to listen to what the industry reps have to offer, and then work out what is going to give most value to your particular patient cohort. Will that 24-plex respiratory PCR improve patient management over and above the incumbent 16-plex? Will this assay which gives me susceptibility results from positive blood cultures in 2 hours instead of 6 hours decrease patient mortality? 

Diagnostic stewardship is a fascinating area. Industry presents us with all these options. It takes an effective team working together in the lab to make the right decisions.