Many Laboratorians Seem to Be “From Missouri”

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OUR STORY ABOUT THE NEW, STATE-OF-THE-ART AUTOMATED LABORATORY at Kaiser Permanente Northwest (KP-NW) in Portland, Oregon is one which should not be overlooked or underestimated in its importance.

It is the story about how an ISO-9000-certified clinical lab organization used ISO principles to design, from the ground up, its new laboratory. Around the offices of THE DARK REPORT, we believe it’s the first example of an ISO- certified laboratory building a new clinical lab facility in the United States. By using these long-proven principles of quality management, KP Northwest’s lab division created a paradigm-shifting design for laboratory work flow—one that meets all the goals of modern laboratory management.

These goals include improving productivity, reducing both variability and errors in work processes, cutting costs, improving turnaround times and the quality of lab test results, supporting patient safety goals, and providing laboratory staff with a positive work environment that uses their professional skills to best advantage. That’s a pretty impressive list of goals well-met. The unorthodox design and operation of this lab is a direct result of clinical lab professionals mastering the tools of quality management (through their ISO-9000 certification), then applying them to the operational problems common to almost all clinical laboratories.

Yet, these quality tools have been around for almost two decades. So why did it take the laboratory profession so long to produce its first clinical laboratory facility designed from the perspective and philosophy of ISO-9000? Maybe our editor-in-chief is right when he compares the typical laboratorian to those famed folks from Missouri. Dubbed the “Show Me” State, Missourians were the type of people who had to be shown something before they would believe it. “I’m from Missouri. Show me!” described the skepticism, often unwarranted, which marked someone native to that state.

Lab managers and pathologists have a cautious nature about new management ideas, particularly when they originate outside the lab industry and healthcare in general. That is why, two decades down the road, few lab managers are familiar with the principles of quality management and even fewer use them extensively in their own lab. However, the KP Northwest lab facility now provides the kind of “show me” evidence that should encourage other lab leaders to learn and deploy the tools of quality management.

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