From nurses, POC testing gems
Your worst point-of-care testing nightmare is about to come true.
It’s POC payback time: We’re going to tell you what nurses and
other nonlaboratory personnel really think of POC-and of you, the
Oh, relax. The news is (mostly) good. As nurses and other nonlaboratory
professionals have taken on bedside testing, far more than their
workload (though we’ll get to that later) has increased. They’ve
gained a greater appreciation of the high standards you bring to
medical care. They can see, a little more clearly, the impact CLIA
and other regulations have on your work lives. And they know you
care about patients.
But much as they appreciate the work you do and the support you
provide, your POC colleagues have a few bones to pick with you.
And, since they arguably are the omphalos of bedside testing-they’re
the ones drawing the specimens, running the tests, helping to choose
the devices, tackling checklists and inspections, and talking to
patients about laboratory results-you may want to heed their words
So listen up. Here’s what they have to say.
Quality control means very little to them.
(You suspected this all along, didn’t you?)
It’s not that they don’t understand the requirements. They just wish
they didn’t have to deal with them.
Or, as Tommy Waggoner, RNC,
puts it, "We waste a lot of time on QC documentation and procedures."
Case in point: As a labor and delivery nurse with 22 years’ experience,
Waggoner "can’t remember a time when I didn’t do urine dipsticks.
Nurses have been doing them forever. We’re taught how to do them
in nursing school."
She and her colleagues still do them, but it’s no longer a simple
matter now that the nursing staff maintains the POC testing manuals
and tracks competencies. "Essentially what happened is the lab people
came up and trained us to do something we’d been doing for 20 years,"
says Waggoner, nurse manager of obstetrical services at Hendrick
Health System, Abilene, Tex. "It was redundant-a waste of time,
effort, money, and salaries."
Waggoner acknowledges the value of some regulations, such as those
requiring users to perform QC on test strips. "I’ll go with that.
That was a good change, because we weren’t doing that before, and
we should have been." But proving her competency to dip a urine
and read the strip? Forget it. "It’s like saying, ’OK, all you nurses
have to have a competency test every year to prove you know how
to give an injection.’ That’s simply part of a nurse’s job, as far
as I’m concerned."
Debra Case-Cromer, RN, MS, coordinator for nursing education at
Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, says when urine dipsticks fell
back under the laboratory’s purview at her institution, one of her
nursing colleagues termed the new setup "Bizarro World." Says Case-Cromer:
"We went from doing this really simple task to something that now
had a 27-page procedure and two-page checklist."
Territorial feelings don’t help matters, says Mary Zugcic, MS,
CS, a clinical nurse specialist at Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit.
"Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the things that you’ve done for
years. And nurses have done testing for a long time without having
to worry about quality control," she says. When confronted with
QC requirements, "Our response is, ’What do you mean, I have to
do quality control? How come it was OK not to do it for 20 years,
and now it’s not?’"
Moreover, nurses simply have a different view of what constitutes
good QC, says Case-Cromer. "Where a lab might think an 82 percent
rate for QC is terrible, for nursing that’s actually pretty good,
because it has to take its place in the bigger scheme of patient care,"
Nurses are loath to let QC interfere with what they
consider to be more important matters. "Most nurses went into nursing
for the art of nursing, not just for the science of nursing," says
Stephanie S. Poe, MScN, RN, coordinator for nursing clinical quality
at Johns Hopkins. "To a nurse, the interpersonal relationship with
your patient is extremely important. And although the technical
aspects of your job are important and must be done well, the interpersonal
piece can’t suffer because of the technical piece. We don’t nurse
machines; we nurse patients."
"Nurses tend not to value the QC procedures," Case-Cromer agrees.
"It’s hard to convince nurses that they make a difference in the
quality and accuracy of the results. They do QC because they have
to do it, not because they see an intrinsic value in doing it."
So how can the laboratory create QC buy-in?
Pointing to regulatory won’t cut it. "Ancillary services often
throw up this smoke screen of ’It’s required by JCAHO, CLIA, CAP,
blah, blah, blah,’" says Case-Cromer. While those requirements are
real, "Nurses don’t care about that. They care because they have
to-they know that without accreditation the doors of the hospital
won’t stay open."
Showing that QC has a direct effect on care is more convincing.
"Explain to us why the QC is an important method of determining
test accuracy," suggests Pat Willie, RN, MSN, program manager for
the cardiac cath laboratory and noninvasive cardiology program at
Hendrick Health System. "Demonstrate its direct impact on improving
patient care. Rationale has always been important to nurses."
And if that fails? "Buy-in is important, but we may never get it,"
says Case-Cromer. "We might have to settle for people doing QC because
they have to, and leave it at that."
That being said, they understand
QC better than you think.
This is especially true for those who already are familiar with the
process. As new POC tests have made their way onto the floors at Fletcher
Allen Health Care, nurses have complied relatively quickly with QC
requirements, reports Margaret M. Terrien, ANP, MSN, CDE, who oversees
POC testing for nursing at the Burlington, Vt.-based institution.
"Nursing was familiar with QC from having worked with the bedside
glucometers over the years," Terrien says. "So it wasn’t as hard a
fight with the nurses as it was with the physicians," some of whom
were incubating cards from a new H. pylori test under their
arms, she reports.
With time, QC can become more the norm, agrees
Poe. "When we first started doing point-of-care testing, we just
assumed the instruments were reliable. We figured since a device
was supposed to give the correct reading, that it did give the correct
reading. Initially we had no idea that quality control and proficiency
testing need to happen-it just wasn’t within our cognition. But
over the years we’ve certainly learned."
"Nurses can get used to QC; they have to check off on everything
anyway," says Janis Watts, BSN, RN, CCRN, manager of clinical operations,
adult critical care, at Clarian Health Partners, Indianapolis. "They
understand QC is a necessary evil."
But sometimes it’s just not worth it.
It might seem like an easy matter to test stool for occult blood
at bedside-place the sample on the cards, record the results, and
mark "OK" to indicate the control has been performed.
"It sounds like a very small thing," agrees Henry Ford’s Zugcic.
"But to get everyone who’s doing the test to record it correctly,
even something as simple as marking ’OK,’ is next to impossible."
Her unit no longer performs this particular bedside test, not
so much because nurses lack the time to do it, but because even
this straightforward QC system fails to accommodate the realities
of life on a patient care unit.
"When I’ve got someone who’s GI bleeding and I’m hanging blood and
I’m trying to get an IV started and keep the patient clean, and I’m
talking to the patient to keep him calm and the phone is ringing and
the doctor is giving me orders, to remember to write down that ’OK’-hey,
they’re lucky I got the test done and wrote the results down. What’s
this little game I have to play with ’OK’? Of course I did the control,"
POC testing requirements create "a great deal of
conflict between the lab and nursing," says Case-Cromer. "That’s
why some of our departments finally said, ’We’re not going to do
this. We’ll just send the specimens back to the lab for regular
testing. It’s just not worth it to us to do all this QC and worry
about how the controls are stored and what temperature things are.’
They’re just not details that rise up to a level of importance for
At William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Mich., bedside testing
on the inpatient and outpatient surgical units remains firmly in
the hands of laboratory personnel, who work on the units as part
of the pre-op teams.
"We toyed with the idea of having nurses do the testing, but decided
that this would be biting off far more than we could chew," says
Ellen B. Prince, BS, administrative manager. "So the lab is in charge
of quality control and quality assurance, and everyone feels comfortable
with that. The lab doesn’t have to worry whether the QC is being
done properly, and we’re not constantly bird-dogging the nursing
staff because they’re doing something incorrectly."
You don’t understand how busy they are.
Despite years of positive interactions between the laboratory
and nursing, the latter remains a mystery to the former-or so nurses
"I still don’t think the lab understands the full scope of what nurses
do. I don’t think they will ever understand that," Case-Cromer says.
"There is so much going on in any one patient’s care. And while
point-of-care testing is a helpful portion of that, it’s only a
very small portion," adds Poe.
Recent POC discussions at Johns Hopkins have focused on downloading
data from the bedside blood glucose meters. The most efficient way
to accomplish this task, suggested the laboratory, would be to have
one nurse from each of the approximately 70 nursing units download
the data once a day. "That seemed to them an easy thing to do,"
And from nursing’s perspective? "We thought it was an outrageous
request," she says. "To have a nurse-who’s doing patient administration,
monitoring vital signs, dealing with IV lines, teaching patients,
sending them off to procedures, giving whatever other treatments
are needed, dealing with questions from patients and family and
doctors-to ask them to remember to download lab data so the lab
could generate reports seemed like an excessive, unrealistic demand."
Having a laboratory staff person download the data would have required
two days’ worth of work, she acknowledges, which would appear to bolster
the lab’s argument that nursing was a more efficient route. After
all, the task would take a mere two minutes of a nurse’s time.
But time is relative, as nurses are quick to point out. While the
actual download might take two minutes, that doesn’t account for
the time it would take for nurses to track down the multiple glucose
meters, wait for their colleagues to finish using the devices, and
find an available computer to download the results. "The lab’s two
minutes are actually 20 to 30 minutes," Case-Cromer calculates.
You still don’t get it, do you?
Nurses are busy people.
Poe says she’s well aware of one frequent laboratory complaint-that
nurses don’t take the time to perform simple troubleshooting on POC
devices. "We send down a meter that doesn’t work, and it turns out
to be something like missing batteries or whatever. Then the lab gets
mad because they think we should take the time to figure that out.
"Well, we don’t have that time," she says. "And if we did, we
don’t want to use our nursing expertise to figure out what’s wrong
with the glucometer-we’d rather be with our patients."
Not convinced yet?
"As a nurse, I literally deal with life and death in a matter
of minutes," says Charlotte Cabello, MSN, RN, CNA, clinical nurse
manager of the adult solid organ transplant unit at Mt. Sinai Medical
Center, NY. "There are times when I have to be able to respond instantaneously.
I don’t have 10 minutes. I don’t have five minutes. It sounds like
an exaggeration, but it’s true."
You’re not the only ones being squeezed
staffing shortages and tight budgets.
Nonlaboratory personnel have to be quite savvy about POC costs.
"We have to look at more than the cost of the device and the savings
in reagents," Case-Cromer says. "If we bring on a new instrument,
we have to look at all the invisible costs, which include staff
training time, QC time, the nurse manager’s time, reviewing lab
reports. POC can be a very expensive venture for nursing. But it
doesn’t show up as a line item-’training for blood glucose meters,
$35,000,’ which is what it cost us last time."
Whether the laboratory is cognizant of those costs is unclear to Case-Cromer.
"It’s a cost for nursing; it’s not a cost for them. But we still bring
it up anyway," she says.
When the stat laboratory at Clarian Health
Partners closed in the early 1990s, most critical care testing wound
up on the critical care units and a handful of other sites. Much
of the responsibility for the new bedside tests fell to nurses,
who simultaneously were undergoing a major phlebotomy/IV training
"Everything was shifting to nursing," Watts says. That’s a typical
scenario, from nursing’s perspective. "Whenever an organization
goes through a downsizing, rightsizing, whatever, a lot of things
that had been part of other departments are, all of a sudden, something
that nurses can somehow do," she says.
You do not see eye-to-eye on quality of
Direct care providers have no doubt the laboratory is committed
to quality care. "It’s just their definition of quality and our
definition of quality are very different," says Case-Cromer.
Laboratory quality, in the view of many nonlab personnel, means
accurate lab results. "Which is important," Case-Cromer acknowledges.
For nursing, quality of care is much broader in scope. "Our definition
of quality is, The lab results are accurate, patients get to their
procedures on time, patients get their discharge instructions, patients
get the correct meds at the correct time, someone is there to talk
to and console the patient and family," she says.
Quality of care is a more personal matter for bedside providers than
for laboratory professionals, Poe suggests. When a patient needs to
have another sample drawn, "I don’t believe the lab people don’t care
that the patient has to get stuck again. It’s just that they don’t
have to come face-to-face with it. The nurse has an intimate relationship
with the patient, while the lab personnel, for the most part, have
never met the patient. The lab people care, but it’s not personal."
But they appreciate good technology almost
as much as you do.
This month, new bedside glucose meters are slated to make their
debut on Cabello’s unit at Mt. Sinai. "The staff is so excited they
can’t wait," Cabello says.
The reason for the enthusiasm is simple: The new meters will download
data automatically, eliminating the need for nurses to chart the
finger-stick results online. Other improvements have come with the
advent of computerized order entry and a more computerized patient
record. Before that, Cabello recalls, "Staffers did a finger-stick
and had to write down the results in the logbook and in the patient’s
record and at the bedside."
Any technology that lessens the time bedside caregivers devote
to documentation is welcome, Cabello says."That’s more time we can
spend with the patients."
In fact, they’d like some say in deciding
what you bring onboard.
Having a user-friendly instrument has meant a smoother transition
to blood gas POC testing in the neonatal intensive care unit at
William Beaumont Hospital. "We like the instrument the lab chose,"
says Kim Terzian, BS, co-director of respiratory care at the hospital.
A sample reference cassette system makes it easy for staff to perform
QC, and the machine does not depend heavily on operator technique.
"Since it’s easy to use, it’s been easy for us to adjust and to
use it properly," she says.
Such was not always the case. The laboratory first chose an instrument
users found difficult to master. Eventually, Terzian says, it was
replaced because of new technologic advances and the number of problems
"related to technique. And because we’re a large institution with
many people to train, getting proper technique down was a real issue."
Remember, Terzian says, ease of use may mean one thing to laboratory
professionals and something completely different to nonlaboratory
personnel. "It’s absolutely beneficial for a nonlab individual to
be trained on the equipment when the lab is trialing it, to see how
easy it will be for nonlab staff to use it."
Same goes for implementation and training.
Why, you could even let them lead the way.
POC testing has succeeded at Henry Ford in part because "The lab
people were clever enough to know they just couldn’t come down from
their mountain and mandate what had to be done," Zugcic says. "And
they knew not to threaten to take it away from us if we didn’t do
Instead, she reports, lab leaders explained the regulations and
made the end-users feel as if the two groups were working in tandem
to adopt the new requirements.
Laboratories would also do well to step back at times. "Nurses
accept things better from other nurses," says Case-Cromer. "A nurse
educator has a way of framing information, even unconsciously, in
a way that will give nurses more of a buy-in." When training a nurse
on a new device, for example, "A lab-based trainer might say, ’Do
it this way because CLIA requires it,’ whereas a nurse might say,
’Do it because the results are more accurate, which means we can
treat the patient better.’" While that may not sound like a big
deal, she says, "It is."
Whenever the laboratory at West Tennessee Healthcare wants to
address a blood glucose POC issue with nursing, they turn to Kathy
Woolfork, RN, BSN, CDE. "The lab relates the issue to me, and I
address it with nursing. I think that makes the nurses feel like
they have more ownership of the testing-the fact that I’m a nurse,
too, and I’m the one coming to them with this issue," says Woolfork,
diabetes education coordinator at the Jackson, Tenn., institution.
"It’s better than someone from the lab calling up and telling them,
’This is not the way it should be done.’"
But the laboratory also scores points with Woolfork by being willing,
if she asks them, to join her in meeting with the nurses and explaining
the problem from the lab’s viewpoint. "The lab is incredibly supportive,"
Face it, your timing could be better.
Poe knows that the POC testing office at Hopkins is dying to bring
in a new glucose meter, one that would lock out users when QC is
not performed. Voila!-good-bye, QC problems. "They see it as a quick
fix," she says.
There’s nothing quick about it, she counters. "Even if the new
device were able to flag us, that is not sufficient reason to retrain
2,500 nurses on a new machine. We just did it two years ago. In
fact, since it takes us six to eight months to do the training,
we’ve only really been using our current device for about a year
If the new meter "could truly affect patient care, very visibly,
and our ability to deliver that care, then it might be a different
story," she says. But unless that’s the case, such a major educational
effort should only be undertaken every four or five years, Poe maintains.
"We don’t deny the QC is a problem," she says. "But nursing is
looking at that problem from a broader perspective. Given our training
time, work overload, and staffing shortage, this is not the time
to be making a change. It may be the lab’s priority, but it’s not
They know you dropped that tube of blood.
"One thing that makes us crazy is when the lab calls to tell us
we need to have another blood specimen drawn because it’s QNS-quantity
not sufficient," says Cabello. This immediately prompts the question,
"Did somebody drop the tube of blood?"
"Hey, it happens," Cabello says. "God knows, we’ve done it too. But
just tell us, because it drives us nuts when you tell us that, and
we know we sent down a tube that was filled to the brim." The same
goes for requesting another tube to replace a missing specimen. "If
the lab tells us they never received a specimen, we will move heaven
and earth to get ahold of the lab supervisor and to route through
every single specimen that was sent. We want to make sure that missing
specimen isn’t maybe hiding at the bottom of a pile, or that someone
didn’t get interrupted and set it down someplace, and that it just
never got to the machine for processing. We want to do everything
we can to avoid having to stick the patient an additional time."
Having to redraw specimens is no minor matter for bedside caregivers,
who may be sending down samples to confirm POC results. Indeed,
it reflects larger issues of patient care. Every new stick represents
an opportunity for infection and may limit the number of IV access
sites. "It also makes the patients feel like a human pincushion,"
Furthermore, repeated needle-sticks can reflect poorly on the
caregivers. "There’s nothing more upsetting to patients than being
told, ’We have to stick you again.’ They get extremely upset with
you and lose confidence in you-their view is that the staff person
who drew their blood is incompetent, that they didn’t do it right
the first time," Cabello says.
And lest you think this is a problem only for the bedside practitioners,
consider this observation: "If the staff’s response, in order to
’defend’ themselves, is to say, ’It’s not our fault-the lab said
they needed another specimen,’ the patient will lose confidence
in the lab and the rest of the hospital, not just the care providers
in the unit," Cabello points out.
They like seeing your face from time to
Yes, we know you’ve been told-umpteen times-to leave the lab,
but it never hurts to hear it a few more times.
"If the lab folks were to come up and see what we do on the floors,
that would be a nice gesture," says Case-Cromer. "It would show
a real effort on their part to understand the multiple, multiple,
multiple priorities nurses face."
Caregivers who see their laboratory colleagues on a regular basis
definitely appreciate it.
At Clarian Health Partners, the laboratory’s POC manager and staff
"are highly visible to nurse managers and their staff," Watts says.
"It has a huge impact on us."
POC personnel at Henry Ford hold their meetings on the patient
care units, rather than in the laboratory. "That may not seem like
much, but it gets the lab people out of their inner sanctum," Zugcic
Lab professionals haven’t always been welcome on the floors with unbridled
enthusiasm, Zugcic admits. "We used to cringe when we saw them on
the units-we figured they were just coming up to give us grief about
QC. But now we see them as people who are coming up here to help us."
She also concedes laboratory personnel may have reasons for shying
away from the patient care units. "Look at it from their point of
view," she says. "Usually the only time they talk to a nurse is when
there’s one screaming at them over the phone. Would you want to go
up and face that? Lab people aren’t stupid-they’re not going to go
where they get yelled at."
And they wouldn’t mind seeing just what
it is you do.
Zugcic says she makes it a point to stop by the laboratory occasionally
to chat with her lab colleagues. Though she now enjoys making these
visits, her first foray to the lab gave her pause.
"I was not comfortable doing it," she recalls. "It was much easier
to sit up on the unit and call them and yell at them than actually
go and deal with them."
Nor was she sure that she would be welcome in the laboratory.
"There’s that sign on the door, ’Authorized personnel only,’ which
makes you feel like you don’t belong. When I went in, I wasn’t sure
if they’d call security on me, or if I’d be shot," she jokes.
Not that everyone is sold on this concept
of calling on the lab.
"I can see where it might be helpful to go to the lab and see
what they do," says Case-Cromer, a bit doubtfully. "Some people
might find it interesting. But most nurses probably would not."
Your support makes the difference.
Terzian, of William Beaumont, says she and her respiratory therapist
colleagues do not hesitate to ask the laboratory for help whenever
they need it. "We expect them to assist us, because it does fall
under their department to oversee [POC testing]."
Because the lab meets those expectations, bedside testing has
worked well, she says. "They’re there for us when we ask questions,
and they helped with the initial training. They even follow up and
report to me without my having to ask them." This support "has given
us a very good comfort level with using the equipment and doing
the testing," she says.
"One of the reasons for our success is that the lab is customer-oriented,"
says Fletcher Allen’s Terrien. "They never said to us, ’You have
to do this test this way.’ Instead, they sat down with everyone
involved and said, ’What do you need to do and how can we help you?’
"That makes a world of difference, believe me."
Your role in POC testing is murky.
Actually, your role in general can be a little dim.
But POC is helping your cause.
As POC testing has gained a foothold at Johns Hopkins, so has the
idea, slowly but surely, that the laboratory is somehow involved in
"The understanding that the lab is responsible for
point-of-care testing has been new," says Case-Cromer. "Before,
it was not something that we saw as the purview of the lab at all.
The lab was a place where we sent specimens to, and what they did
there was their business."
Observes Woolfork: "Sometimes the nurses do feel like they have
ownership of bedside glucose testing. Nurses say to me, ’What does
the lab have to do with it?’"
The laboratory-direct caregiver relationship is still clouded
by ancient boundaries.
At Henry Ford, some of the recalcitrance nurses felt toward POC
testing initially was based not so much on the lab’s attitudes,
"but the attitudes we believed they had," says Zugcic. With interactions
largely limited to phone calls asking for test results, it was easy
for nurses to be chary regarding their laboratory colleagues. Opinion
tended to fall toward the I-know-they-ignore-the-stat-work, I-know-the-lab-stuff-is-up-there-they’re-just-not-looking-for-it
end of the spectrum, she says. "There was a lot of baggage that
had come from years of the traditional lab-nursing dynamic. But
POC has helped change that."
Before POC began making its mark at Hendrick Health Center, Willie
says she saw the laboratory as merely an ancillary department. "And
you know how ancillary departments can be-it’s usually a matter
of, ’I want this result when I need it, and the department should
Now that she’s elbow-deep in reagent parameters, CAP inspections,
and the like, her empathy has grown. "Boy, do I have a greater appreciation
for what the lab goes through to get those results."
However, they are calling some of the shots,
whether you like it or not.
Direct care staff at William Beaumont initially resisted training
to perform blood gas POC tests "due to previous experience," says
Terzian. "At first we were concerned about the time commitment for
training, but the laboratory and respiratory care pulled together
to accomplish a good training program," she says.
she says, "We decided that because we are doing the testing and
want to do it well and efficiently, we took on the responsibility
to do the training and follow-through. And we decided to work with
the lab and not against them."
Fortunately, they recognize
that you’re calling some shots, too.
"We know that the lab is the final authority," says Woolfork.
"Even though I have the equipment in my department, I run the
test, and I handle the QC, the lab personnel remain the experts,"
says Willie. "They are a valuable resource, and I rely on their
knowledge. Frankly, I don’t think that point-of-care should happen
outside a collegial relationship with the lab."
Do they like POC?
Despite QC hassles, lack of time, the burden of training, and Byzantine regulatory
requirements, the majority of direct care providers say they welcome the opportunity
to do bedside testing when it benefits patients.
"We would love to expand our role with point-of-care
blood gases in the hospital," says Terzian.
Willie says she has yet to hear a negative remark from her colleagues
about POC testing. "We love having immediate results."
"We know the lab does a good job, and we know they run tests better
than we do,’" says Zugcic. "But there is an advantage in us doing
it, and whenever the lab can let us do it, they shouldn’t deny us
that opportunity. Because having that result immediately allows
us to do what’s best for the patient."
Karen Titus is CAP TODAY contributing editor and co-managing