By - December 20, 2021
COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, is dominating headlines. Its effects are widespread, and not just from a patient aspect, but from a global impact perspective as well. The outbreak of this new virus is wreaking havoc on our healthcare system, our economy, and the many unknowns about COVID-19 are creating challenging environments for the world.
As pathologists and medical laboratory scientists, we are at the forefront of this epidemic, and it is part of our commitment to providing patient-centric care that keeps us moving forward, our work unceasing, ever searching for and developing new tests and new resources that will help our patients stay healthy and help stanch the outbreak of new cases.
Part of that forward motion also means sharing the information that we, as the experts in laboratory science, learn as this epidemic unfolds. Dr. Jeannette Guarner, MD, FASCP, addressed the outbreak of COVID-19 and the evolving nature of testing in laboratories in an editorial in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Pathology (AJCP), and in this issue of Critical Values, she further discusses the uncertainties healthcare, and laboratories in particular, are facing. Testing at this moment is limited, she notes, but pushing for increased testing is crucial, as having timely results can aid in patient care, including isolation precautions.
Kelly Swails, web editor for Lab Medicine Online, also explores COVID-19, examining the laboratory’s critical role in the course of a pandemic, as opposed to what we often see in movies. In her article, “Pandemics and the Laboratory: Separating Fact from Fiction,” experts share the role pathology and medical laboratory scientists play in identifying and understanding a new virus. “While our current methods of detecting and identifying novel pathogens are more advanced than they were even a decade ago, laboratory scientists are crucial when developing diagnostic tests for novel viruses,” she writes.
Also in this issue of Critical Values, senior editor Molly Strzelecki looks at another major issue the pathology and laboratory community is facing: Burnout. With the recent release of new data from three wellness surveys published in AJCP, we can acutely see how burnout has a detrimental affect not only on patient care, but also directly on pathologists, laboratory professionals, and pathology residents. Left unchecked, burnout has the potential to further deplete the laboratory workforce, as people in the profession consider career changes to alleviate stress and increase their work-life balance. It is up to institutions as well as individuals to invest in wellness initiatives and activities, and create a healthier workforce. Dr. Colin West, MD, PhD, an expert on physician burnout, shared his insight for the article, and notes, “It’s recognizing that the question isn’t, ‘Can we afford to invest in physician and healthcare professional well-being?’ It’s actually, ‘How can we not afford to invest in their well-being?’”
Pathology and laboratory medicine are critical to patient care, yet it is not uncommon for laboratory professionals to have limited, if any, interaction with patients. Dr. Jeffrey Myers, MD, at the University of Michigan, is working to change that, with the development of the Patient and Family Centered Care Program. In a Q&A in this issue, Dr. Myers discusses the impetus for the program, the need for it in today’s complex healthcare ecosystem, and where the program is headed. “We’re assuming that clinicians can always articulate with patients need and want, and the truth is, they often can’t,” Dr. Myers explains. “It made me think that pathology really could be a forward-thinking leader in thinking about care pathways.”
There are multiple challenges affecting healthcare, and so many that have a direct impact on pathology and laboratory medicine. As new information is learned, we are better able to arm ourselves with the knowledge necessary to provide the care our patients need, and do the critical work that high-quality healthcare relies on. And as we face these challenges as a profession, as a whole entity, we embody the words StrongerTogether.
Thank you for your continued support of ASCP. Please send me your comments and suggestions at Blair.Holladay@ascp.org. My very best to each of you.