Crunch Time In Health Care Staffing

By Matthew Mann Minarik, PA

Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic - c 1981

Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic
c 1981

I’ve been around medical labs since the ‘80s. I worked in two labs; at the Cleveland Free Clinic and the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic (in fact, I examined the very first HIV Positive patients there in 1981 – poor souls).  Back then oftentimes we would exam the patient and then do the gram stain or U/A ourselves (PPMP) – it was old-time medicine.

As a Physician Assistant and as someone who, in a limited fashion, worked the bench, I understand both sides of the door; the door to the patients, and the door to the lab.  Both sides of the door have two things in common; 1 – they care about people and ‘doing the job right’, and 2 – there is not enough time in the day to do things as thoroughly as you would like.  It’s not as if there are quality issues that governing bodies need to worry about, but everyone I worked with would have liked a little more time just to breathe a little and to verify that every step was done perfectly.

I am concerned now because I see a staffing problem up ahead that will have a direct impact on quality of care.  The Health Care Affordability Act is projected to drive more patients into healthcare facilities than ever before (up to 32 million new patients)[i][ii], which means resources will be further stretched. Combine that with the fact that 35% of physicians are over age 55 and will be retiring within the next three years[iii] as well as my own observations (verified by ASCP[iv]) that the majority of those working the diff bench are older and nearing retirement as well means we are being set up for some serious shortages.  We are reaching ‘crunch time’ in health care staffing for both primary care and medical laboratories.  New collaboration workflow solutions need to be explored and integrated into daily practice to compensate for this resource crunch.

Arguably, one of the biggest bottlenecks for any laboratory is staffing the diff bench. The lab tech must concentrate and not be disturbed, the ergonomics are not the best, and quite frankly it’s hard work.  New med techs coming out of school are more ‘screen’ and ‘tech’ savvy than they are scope savvy. To add to this point, at the Clinical Lab Expo show in LA last week, I spoke with a Case-Western Reserve Medical School professor who told me that Case no longer teaches new medical students on how to use a microscope! (I remember my friends who got accepted to medical school would oftentimes receive a microscope as a present from their parents and they were so proud of it! Those days are gone.) The bottom line is that you have a smaller number of new techs who really want to do a manual diff using a microscope (whether or not they can do it) and yet the need to do diffs will be increasing.

NextSlide Imaging’s hosted digital microscopy platform is one of the solutions that will fit right into the quality of care needs of the future; both for staffing and patient care issues.

NextSlide’s software automatically finds and classifies all the normal WBC’s and displays them right on the monitor.  The tech now merely makes sure that what the software calls a monocyte is actually a monocyte and not a lymphocyte, and the tech has full editing and correcting capabilities.  And NextSlide offers a ‘hosted’ (in the cloud) solution.  So for any abnormal or ‘questionable’ slides that require review by a pathologist the tech can now just ‘click’ and send an e-mail to the pathologist (or anyone else on the network), and they can view the digital slide in question from their PC or their iPad anywhere in the world.  No more oily slides to send around.

The whole NextSlide process creates a virtual staff and allows for much more staffing flexibility. More techs are now available to do the differential from just about anywhere, and their work can be checked with 100% accuracy because each cell is identified and isolated and can be reviewed by the supervisor.

Crunch time for staffing your lab is coming fast and collaborative workflow software from NextSlide is a great way to give your lab the tools it needs to eliminate bottlenecks and free up your staff to continue to ‘do the job right’. 

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Matthew M Minarik, PA has a BS in biochemistry from The Ohio State University and has been a PA since 1986 but has been in medicine and laboratory medicine since 1980 where he began his career as a volunteer while in college at the Cleveland Free Medical Clinic. Currently, Mr. Minarik coordinates sales and marketing for NextSlide Imaging.

NextSlide Imaging is located at 7100 Euclid OH 44103.  www.nextslideimaging.com.



[i] http://www.whitehouse.gov/healthreform/timeline

[ii] http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Blog/2012/Jan/Affordable-Care-Act-Safety-Net.aspx

[iii] http://explorehealthcareers.org/en/BlogPost/212/3_reasons_why_America_needs_100000_new_doctors__pronto

[iv] http://www.ascp.org/pdf/CVShortage.aspx

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* NextSlide Products are not cleared by the FDA for clinical use