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Why the name NCCLS will be no more after ’04

December 2004
Karen Lusky

It’s not exactly a New Year’s resolution, but NCCLS, which will become the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute on Jan. 1, has resolved to get the health care industry using its new name toute de suite.

This isn’t the first name change for NCCLS, which adopted the acronym-only name in the early 1990s in lieu of the National Committee for Clinical Laboratory Standards. But an exhaustive branding study during the past two years showed that the "N" that stood for "national" confused people, says NCCLS spokeswoman Louise Ciccarelli Games, "especially since our organization’s mission, standards-development activities, and membership base has been global for many years."

Now NCCLS is hoping to move out of the alphabet soup all together. The organization is committed to using the full name of Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute, says Games, although people may tend to shorten it to CLSI. "The health care field tends to initialize or turn names into acronyms," she notes, "but you don’t see that extensive use of acronyms in other fields of business."

The name change initially may create confusion, says Games, "but NCCLS has a great reputation and a long-standing tradition ... and, if anything, people in the laboratory community will feel more confident to see ’laboratory’ in our name. They will also see the words ’and clinical’ and know we have expanded beyond laboratory standards."

Even though many of NCCLS’s consensus standards and guidelines are specific to laboratories, the organization also offers guidelines for pharmacy, respiratory care, and medical imaging, says NCCLS treasurer and CAP member Gerald Hoeltge, MD.

NCCLS also serves as the secretariat for the International Organization for Standardization for developing international standards for ISO Technical Committee 212, which focuses on clinical laboratory testing and in vitro diagnostic test systems, and ISO/TC 76, which focuses on transfusion, infusion, and injection equipment for medical and pharmaceutical use.

Now that the name change is official, the organization must spread the word among its many constituencies. "That can be a challenge for any organization, especially a small, nonprofit one, such as NCCLS, with a global market," says Games. "We have an extensive communication plan to make sure our members, customers, and volunteers know of the new name."

Dr. Hoeltge believes CAP members can help reinforce the new name. He cites, as an example, how as an NCCLS representative at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-sponsored meeting of the Institute for Quality in Laboratory Medicine, he drew attention to the fact that he was seated alphabetically at the table among the "Ns." When Dr. Hoeltge introduced himself, he quipped how next year he’d be sitting with the "Cs." "It was a joke, but a very purposeful one," he says, designed to remind people about the name change.

Dr. Hoeltge also believes that, just as CAP tagged every piece of correspondence for a year with its signature "CAP ’03" for its first solo annual meeting (and then CAP ’04, and so on), NCCLS can rebrand itself using a similar tack. The organization will retain the globe and triangle on its logo and add its new name.

The College will incorporate the name change into its documents referring to NCCLS that are released after Jan. 1, says CAP staffer Sharon Burr. "But most of those types of communications are internal, so the change won’t affect that many people." Other organizations may have a much bigger task getting everyone to switch to the new name, she adds.

Awareness of the new name will pose something of a learning bump for people who have been in the clinical laboratory industry for a long time, agrees C. Anne Pontius, MBA, MT (ASCP), who has served on NCCLS subcommittees and is president of Laboratory Compliance Consultants. "But for those new to the industry," she adds, "the name will help identify exactly what the organization does."

Karen Lusky is a writer in Brentwood, Tenn.