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April 2012

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Keep your staff happy

No one can be sure what the MT and MLT vacancy rate will be in 2018, by which time many are expected to retire, but there’s no question it will be higher than today’s rate of about 10 percent. Though it may become harder to keep labs fully staffed, it can be done. How is what laboratory recruiter Chris Harol, of Lighthouse Recruiting, talked about in a Feb. 22 Dark Report audioconference. Here’s some of what Harol said:

Keep the staff you have now happy. “Create a fun and challenging work environment,” Harol says, by avoiding mundane, repetitive work. One of his clients trains everyone as gener-alists who can work in multiple areas. Allow flexible schedules, provide productivity incentives, invest in continuing education, give employees who are strong in a particular area more responsibilities (“try to find a project for them”), and encourage and respect your employees and give them the credit they deserve. “If you see your staff doing a good job, let them know,” he says. And if possible, define career paths. Not easy to do in the laboratory, especially in the staff ranks. “Some of the reference labs have a tiered system”—medical technologist I, II, III, or IV—“and I’ve noticed that helps with retention rates.”

Make hiring a priority to keep the pace of the hiring process moving. Schedule it, he says, rather than just squeeze it in when it’s convenient for you. “For each additional week you leave a position open, you pay an additional $500 in overtime pay,” Harol says. Moreover, the good employees don’t stay on the market long. Wine and dine them and move fast. “If they’re interviewing with you, that probably means they’re interviewing with several other companies as well,” and they’re getting multiple offers.

Tell your employees there is an opening (don’t assume they know) and offer a referral bonus. “It’s going to save you money in the long run,” Harol says. And list the job opening on your Web site. He gets calls from employers wanting his help in filling a position, and when he logs on to their sites to find information about the job, he discovers it’s not posted. “That’s probably one of the main reasons you’re having trouble finding people—no one knows your job is available.”

Be creative, not “cookie cutter,” with your job offers. “If they like to fish, give them a season pass for fishing. If they like to ski, give a season pass for skiing.”

Partner with a NAACLS-accredited program. Labs that are associated with such programs have significantly lower vacancy rates, Harol says. It also leads to better hires: “You’re going to be able to extend the interview process from possibly one hour to 32 weeks” during which you can observe a potential hire.

There are programs looking to partner now, he says, noting a recent conversation he had with an instructor in Phoenix who said his program cannot find hospitals and laboratories that will take their students for clinical rotations.

Where in the lab are the greatest needs today? Blood bank and histology, in Harol’s experience. And he has been getting a lot of requests of late for microbiology supervisors and managers, saying, “It’s hard to come across qualified candidates in that area.”

Digital pathology—what’s standing in its way?

The Digital Pathology Association, in partnership with the Association of Pathology Informatics and CAP TODAY, will host four webinars that focus on barriers to adopting digital pathology.

CAP TODAY publisher Robert McGonnagle will moderate each one-hour session, during which experts will give brief presentations and then discuss with McGonnagle and attendees the major points presented.

Cultural and strategic barriers to the adoption of digital pathology is the subject of the first session that will take place May 9 from 11 AM to noon EST. The presenters will be Sylvia L. Asa, MD, PhD, of University Health Network, University of Toronto; Keith J. Kaplan, MD, of Carolinas Pathology Group, Charlotte, NC; and Dirk Soenksen of Aperio.

Other webinars: Financial barriers to the adoption of digital pathology, July 25; technical barriers, Sept. 19; and regulatory barriers, Nov. 14.

All sessions will take place from 11 AM to noon EST on the specified dates and are free but require advance registration. To register, visit http://digitalpathologyassociation.org/webcasts. Digital Pathology Association members will have access to archived versions of the webinars.

Better infection control in hospitals

The typical turnaround time for MRSA screening tests may not be fast enough to manage such infections, according to survey results released by the American Society for Microbiology and Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

Fifty-one percent of the infection preventionists (IPs) surveyed indicated they need results for MRSA screening tests within 12 hours to initiate the necessary precautions. MRSA cultures typically require 24 to 48 hours.

The survey identified the need for more communication between IPs and lab professionals and the lack of tools and resources to train and educate all health care personnel as factors that could be addressed to help resolve the discrepancy and reduce the incidence of health-care–associated infections.

“These survey results indicate that there are areas for improvement in the relationship between IPs and lab professionals to ensure the best patient outcomes,” said Lance Peterson, MD, director of microbiology and infectious diseases research at NorthShore University HealthSystem, Evanston, Ill., and clinical professor at the University of Chicago. He is a clinical advisor to the ASM.

The IPs and lab professionals surveyed indicated they would value help with relationship building between the two groups (70 percent), would like to hear about other facilities’ experiences in creating partnerships (83 percent), and would like more education about best practices (78 percent) and more resources for educating themselves and other staff (62 percent). Only 63 percent of those surveyed said their facility has effective infrastructure in place for training and educating staff about health-care–associated infections.

The survey was conducted by Mathew Greenwald and Associates from April 19 through May 11, 2011 and had 1,839 respondents (8.9 percent response rate). Seventy-eight percent were APIC members; 22 percent were ASM members. Eighty-one percent of respondents work in hospitals.

The survey is a first step in the collaboration between APIC and ASM to reduce infections and improve patient outcomes. For information about the collaboration, visit www.apic.org/labproject.

GeneWeave secures funds for molecular platform

GeneWeave Biosciences has raised $12 million in an A round of venture capital led by Decheng Capital. Investors Claremont Creek Ventures and X/Seed Capital also participated in the round.

GeneWeave will use the capital to complete the development, validation, and clearance of the initial test for its GeneScout platform for the rapid detection of infectious disease. Steve Tablak is CEO.

5- , 10-year survival gains for children with ALL

A study by the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) reported that five-year survival for acute lymphoblastic leukemia among children treated through COG clinical trials increased from 83.7 percent during the period 1990–1994 to 90.4 percent during the period 2000–2005. The findings were published March 12 online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (Hunger S, et al.).

Improvements in survival were observed among all children over age one regardless of age, sex, ethnicity, or subtype of ALL. The analysis showed similar gains in 10-year survival.

Analyzed in the study was long-term survival among 21,626 individuals treated for ALL as children or adolescents (infancy to age 22) in COG ALL clinical trials between 1990 and 2005. Researchers divided this period into three “eras” (1990–1994, 1995–1999, and 2000–2005) that included similar-sized patient groups to examine changes in five- and 10-year survival over time. The study population represents nearly 56 percent of ALL cases estimated to have occurred among individuals in the United States younger than age 20 between 1990 and 2005.

In addition to the gains in five-year survival, the study found that 10-year survival increased from 80.1 percent between 1990 and 1994 to 83.9 percent between 1995 and 1999.

The development of new drugs for ALL—such as methotrexate, cytarabine, and 6-mercaptopurine—raised the five-year survival rate from less than 10 percent in the 1960s to about 77 percent between 1985 and 1994. Individuals treated since then have not necessarily received different drugs; rather, they have had improved combinations and dosing schedules honed over the years through rigorous clinical trials. Advances in supportive care have also played a role in enabling patients to complete their ALL treatments in the optimal time period, leading to better outcomes.