Mid America Clinical Laboratories Discusses Recent Lab Errors

Lab officials quickly invite television news reporters to tour the lab and see steps taken to address errors

IN FOLLOWING UP THE DISCOVERY of false positive results for Chlamydia tests it had performed on a limited number of patients, Mid America Clinical Laboratories (MACL) found itself the subject of news coverage.

This included interviews with an irate patient who told one television news reporter that, after receiving a positive result for her Chlamydia test, she had “kicked her husband out of the house” because she assumed her husband had cheated on her.

THE DARK REPORT provided an assessment of this situation in its issue of May 2, 2011, with lessons to be learned from these types of episodes. Mid America Clinical Laboratories was asked to provide someone for an interview. MACL declined that request, but did send a statement that arrived after THE DARK REPORT had gone to press.

This statement was signed by Nancy Bray Boggs, Vice President, Human Resources & Corporate Communications at Mid America Clinical Laboratories. That statement is reprinted here in full.

Chlamydia Testing AT MACL

Dear Editor:

There are many lessons other laboratories can learn through the recent experience of our laboratory, Mid America Clinical Laboratories (MACL) in Indianapolis. The public nature of the incident began with the media when a patient complained to a local television news reporter who focuses on complaint stories from the public.

While the corrected report had been previously issued to the physician, the patient remained dissatisfied and took her issue to the media, despite the offer for our laboratory to absorb the cost of all the laboratory testing related to the error, the offer to pay for additional physician office visits and prescription medications related to the incident.

Please note that eight laboratory errors were found and corrected out of over 1,000 tests performed during the period. Only one patient complained and that patient complained publicly.

In the media’s drive for ratings, the word “botched” was used in the teaser headline at the beginning of the news broadcast and unfortunately that very strong, negative word continues to be used by the media and on line.

The reporter contacted the MACL Vice President of Corporate Communications for a statement and MACL determined immediately that the reporter needed to see the pristine, high quality laboratory we operate. The reporter accepted the offer to tour the laboratory.

In that tour and meeting, the situation was described to the reporter and explained how a situation like this could occur in any laboratory performing molecular testing. The reporter was impressed with the laboratory and with the openness of the discussion. We are, and remain very proud of, our facility and the high quality and high volume laboratory testing we perform.

Second Reporter Did Tour

The story was picked up the next day by another news station in the city and again, that reporter was invited into the laboratory immediately and accepted that invitation. Both stories were reported in a fair manner.

Our laboratory did make a mistake and we admitted that mistake and took corrective action immediately. Our corporate philosophy is to keep the patient first in all that we do and when we get it wrong, make it right. That is exactly what we did in this instance.

On the technical side, we made changes to ensure the likelihood of this occurrence happening again would be remote. The instrument was moved from the main molecular testing area into a negative air pressure room. We are working closely with the vendor to minimize this from happening again in our laboratory.

Now, the environmental testing takes place every other day. We do not feel that standard of environmental testing monthly is adequate and had been testing once weekly but have now increased that to every other day.

It is our goal to ensure high quality testing and laboratory results at all times in our laboratory.

This statement was provided by: Nancy Bray Boggs, Vice President, Human Resources & Corporate Communications, at Mid America Clinical Laboratories; 2560 N. Shadeland Avenue, Indianapolis, Indiana 46219.

Editor’s Comments: In instances where a laboratory discovers that it has reported erroneous results, various federal and state laws define many specific actions that laboratory must take. However, there is still plenty of discretion available to laboratory administrators and managers in how they deal with the range of consequences that surface after physicians and patients are informed about errors in laboratory tests.

Although uncommon, it does happen that local newspapers and television news stations can become aware of an episode of laboratory test errors. That is what occurred when a patient involved in the MACL lab test error incident decided to call up her local news outlets. News coverage of her complaints about the false positive Chlamydia test results had the potential to cast Mid America Clinical Laboratories in an unfavorable light.

Bringing Reporters on Site

But MACL laboratory managers responded with a policy of transparency and openness. The interested news reporters were invited to conduct a site visit to the laboratory and learn, first-hand, how workflow and long-established protocols are designed to produce accurate laboratory test results.

The news features produced by these reporters following their site visits to Mid America Clinical Laboratories did provide much favorable coverage for the lab— notwithstanding the comments made by the irate patient during these same news reports.

Thus, one useful lesson to be gained from the experience of MACL in its response to the disclosure of laboratory test errors is that it can do a better job of getting its side of the story out to the public if it will meet with reporters and members of the press, and provide them with relevant access and information.

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