Clinical laboratory professionals have a great interest in improving patient safety, but tight financial circumstances may stymie their efforts to invest in technologies that boost safety. However, in a question-and-answer in the July issue of Clinical Laboratory News, Patient Safety Focus editor-in-chief Michael Astion, MD, PhD, writes there is “quite a bit” lab directors can do to improve patient safety without spending anything, and these approaches can even save time and money.

The least expensive but most effective patient safety maneuver, Astion wrote, is for leadership to stay calm and positive in the face of patient safety challenges. “Staying positive means affirming your staff for exhibiting positive patient safety behaviors, including respecting no distraction zones, helping a care provider order the right test, or making ‘good catches,’ such as detecting a problem with a specimen or result,” he explained.

Lab managers also need to focus on objective competency assessments, he advised. For instance, test the staff’s ability to identify urine sediment structures rather than simply asking if they think they do a good job, and observe staff performing critical lab tasks.

Astion also advised lab managers to reduce and consolidate testing. For instance, identify and reduce common tests, such as complete blood counts, ordered within 24 hours on stable inpatients.

Multitasking and distractions are major contributors to safety issues. That’s why Astion recommended that labs employ “no interruption” zones around the busiest instruments; forbid techs from answering the phone while performing high-volume work; and ban mobile phones in the lab.

Above all, Astion suggested that good leadership—including recognizing that staff come to work to do a great job—is essential in times of financial distress. “This is easy to recognize on days when the lab operates smoothly,” he wrote. “But bad days are what separates a good lab leader from a great one. When instruments go down, when the hospital is busy, when an unexpected number of lab workers are out sick, when an inadvertent error or two affect patient care, when a physician, nurse, or patient is unhappy with the service from your lab—these are the unwanted mistakes that great leaders recognize sometimes occur despite our best efforts.”

For more details, pick up the July issue of CLN.