Summer in the dead of winter

Dec. 1, 2003
n the blink of an eye, we are at the end of another year in an industry of juxtapositions, one that still offers an amazingly positive panorama despite all the existing perplexities: the development of labor-saving products and technology contrasted against an industry-wide personnel shortage of crisis proportion, a legislative movement toward funding medical technology education on one hand and grassroots Medicare copayment struggles on the other, and the promise of life-changing genomics vs. the continuing threats of deadly bioterrorist chemical agents.I asked experts for different perspectives and got a spectrum of challenges:insurance issues, Medicare guidelines, compliant billing and getting paid;the absence of licensure in many states, which would help to better address salaries, jobs and patient-safety issues;a well-documented shortage of medical technologists/clinical laboratory scientists with no real outcomes-oriented plan of action;SARS and West Nile Virus and prions associated with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and variant CJDs impact on the blood supply; andthe ramp-up of laboratories to deal with bioterrorism, while juggling HIPAA and molecular diagnostics although neither of the latter two had the urgency of bioterrorism preparedness. Say what you will about the clinical labs tough times, the fact is that no one can accuse the field of being stagnant. It is every bit as vibrant as any other. Its growing pains in the past 12 months stretched the minds and imaginations of everyone who is part of this intricate network of healthcare professionals. Scientists, researchers and those techies have triumphed in aiding compatriots in the lab with new and/or upgraded testing products, technological masterpieces of robotic equipment and Internet-based education, and a vision for the labs future that embraces the gene-based testing concept.A portion of the clinical lab brain trust rests with government scientists, researchers and regulators who oversee a myriad of substantive issues: the creation and enforcement of regulations to protect lab workers, to monitor the manufacture of products and devices, to secure the handling of various chemical agents in short, a whole nother perspective relating to the clinical laboratorys operation. Another stratum is the managerial talent from vendors, whose job it is to tout lab managers searching the market for wares. It is no mean skill, believe me, to describe in succinct language how a new invention can work to the labs benefit. A great number of the executives, product managers and marketers have scientific or medical educations but can speak in laymans terms about their particular stock in trade, easing the decision-making process for lab managers. Then there are the combined contributions of the unsung clinical lab workers using that knowledge and those innovations, who have succeeded in producing a unique bottom line among todays economic scandals, that of caring for its investors its clients and patients. I think it is safe to say that a pretty hefty number of folk have received healthy dividends this year from the fountainhead of improved methods, tests and devices used by anonymous medical lab technicians, as well as from the wellspring of their knowledge. The scale may often appear lopsided on the negative side when you balance these human elements against the backdrop of woeful budgets, dwindling training programs, frustrating payment options, laborious transitions to new or updated regulations, frightening bioterrorism and virulent exotic diseases.In the depth of winter, I finally learned within me there lay an invincible summer, Albert Camus once wrote. It may seem, at the end of 2003, that you all have weathered the depths of a long and chilly winter, but as you journey toward a new year with its recurring obstacles and possibly fresh solutions, the staff at MLO wishes you good health, good friends, a smidgen of good luck and most of all, we hope that you hold within yourselves that invincible summer.Carren Bersch

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December 2003: Vol. 35, No. 12
2003 Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.