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Outside the Lab Profession

Improvement Through Engagement

ASCP’s dedication to the well-being of patients is evident by their placement in our mission statement: “to provide excellence in education, certification, and advocacy on behalf of patients, pathologists, and laboratory professionals.” Although all of our products and services affect patients tangentially – for instance, educating and certifying our community means that we deliver better patient care, whereas our global health efforts provide quality laboratory services for low-resource settings – we apportion significant resources to raising public awareness of the clinical laboratory. And that requires a multi-faceted approach, which includes strengthening relationships between the laboratory and the clinical care team, talking directly to patients about their diagnoses, and educating patients on the role of the laboratory so they can, in turn, be proactive with their healthcare.

In 2012, ASCP joined the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation’s Choosing Wisely campaign. The campaign’s goal is to promote conversations between clinicians and patients to provide safe, evidence-based, and truly necessary health care. As experts in laboratory medicine, pathologists and laboratory professionals are uniquely qualified to help clinicians and patients choose the best testing for their needs. Over the past several years, ASCP has released over two dozen recommendations that decrease overused or outdated tests and provide guidance for appropriate test selection. These recommendations decrease the burden on healthcare systems by “following the data” to order the right test for the right patient at the right time.

Patients come away with a deeper understanding of their condition and an appreciation for pathologists.

Acting as consultants for the clinical care team, although essential, is not the only way pathologists and laboratory professionals can educate the public about laboratory medicine. We can also explore ways to discuss diagnoses with patients directly. ASCP Vice President Kimberly Sanford engages patients on a daily basis. Her practice is different than most pathologists’; her workplace has more in common with a clinical care setting than a laboratory. About 20 patients a day are seen on-site for blood banking and apheresis procedures, and Sanford takes the time to speak with them about their procedures and answer questions about their diagnoses. She also encourages her residents to do the same. Because of these conversations, patients come away with a deeper understanding of their condition and an appreciation for pathologists. Diseases and their treatments can be complex and, as experts in disease diagnosis, we are uniquely qualified to engage patients during their care.

Yet another way for pathologists to bring the laboratory to public awareness is through ASCP’s Patient Champions. The program raises awareness of the medical laboratory’s role in patient care through patient stories. Our hope is that, through awareness, patients will feel empowered to ask the right questions, understand their diagnoses, and share their own stories with others. The diagnoses our Champions have received run the gamut: cancers, anemias, and even congenital kidney conditions requiring transplants. These Champions highlight not only how important it is for patients to understand the lab’s critical role in their care, but also the value of effective communications between them and the laboratory team. 

As pathologists and laboratory professionals, we have an obligation to focus on the person behind the slide and the sample. We have the opportunity to improve patient care by sharing our knowledge through collaboration with our peers, by engaging patients directly – and by empowering patients to engage with us. Doing so not only benefits our patients, but it also enlightens and strengthens our profession.

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About the Author

E. Blair Holladay

CEO of the American Society for Clinical Pathology

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