TMC’s Emergency Department and core labs: Shaving valuable minutes off lab turnaround time

Tucson Medical Center patients who need lab work done either during an emergency, or when they’re admitted as an inpatient, are getting their lab work processed quicker than ever before.  Big improvements to the Emergency Department and core labs have made it possible to get the results in physicians’ hands earlier– enabling them to make a diagnosis that much faster.  “The Emergency Department lab allows us immediate access to laboratory tests and services that are needed to manage medical emergencies.  We are able to quickly treat the patient and arrange for admission to the appropriate level of care,” says Melissa Moreno, Director of Patient Care Services, Emergency Services. 

The improvements significantly reduce the risk for error, are more cost effective to the patient, lower overall hospital costs, and have a ripple effect on patient wait times.  “For instance, blood work determines many emergency department decisions, and lab test results influence patient discharge. The importance of fast turnaround times could be crucial in many cases,” says Moreno.

Hospitals across the country strive for a 45-minute or less turnaround time, according to John Allen, TMC’s Director of Laboratory Services.  With the new improvements, the results are in a physician’s hands significantly faster than the national standard most of the time.  For example, results from a complete blood count, which evaluates the body’s red and white blood cells, are ready in twenty minutes.  A test that can indicate bleeding problems prior to surgery has results in 33 minutes.  Another test that measures whether someone has had a heart attack – takes just 24 minutes to produce results.    Quick turnaround times are especially critical during a heart attack, since more heart muscle is damaged the longer it takes a patient to get treatment.

For stroke, a diagnosis has the same sense of urgency.  TMC’s Director of Workforce Management Piper Frithsen says it’s a race against the clock to save brain tissue when a patient has had a stroke.  “Two-million brain cells are lost every minute during a stroke,” she says.  Quicker lab results expedite the time it takes physicians to diagnose and treat a patient.  

The core lab is also more efficient, and incredibly consistent.  The addition of an automated machine has decreased turnaround time.  A sample that used to take 45 minutes or more to process, for example, now takes approximately 38 minutes or less, depending on the test.  For patients, there is a reduced risk for error.  Allen says patients benefit because it is a safer way to run labs that produces accurate results quickly. 

Both labs are now operating like well-oiled machines, cranking out results quicker than ever before.  An impressive feat in an emergency setting, when every second counts.

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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