Saturday, February 28, 2015

Too Many Hats

The clinical lab has not been immune to the budget pressure and  management thrashing around that has been endemic in American businesses for the past decade--rapid reorganization, loss of headcount, etc.

Working in the clinical lab space, we have seen jobs eliminated even as millions of dollars are reallocated to information technology: a new LIS or a new LIMS or even a new HIS with an LIS add-on.

For the most part, this new tech has not delivered on its ambitious promises of greater productivity so we have seen Lab forced to handle more and more complex orders with fewer people. Not surprising, then, that we also see an apparent decline in professionalism and procedure.

This puzzled me for a long time: why do the Labs with whom we interact seem to be getting worse and worse at their jobs? If you, as Lab management, are going to have too few people, at least keep the good ones!

Things have declined so much that recently we had to revise our project management planning to include doing lots of what we consider to be the client's work for them: basic validation, vendor relations, systems  integration, etc.

Why are we being forced to do so much of this? (If we don't do it, it goes undone, sometimes with serious consequences which are supposedly our fault.) Why are clients who are trying to save money happy to pay us to do this work that once they happily did for themselves?

I do not think that that answer is that Lab people are losing capability. Instead, I think that the answer is this: too few people leads to wearing too many hats. Wearing too many hats leads to doing jobs with too little attention and for which one has too little aptitude or training. 

So I think that the terrible Sys Admin I recently had to suffer with is actually an overburdened but excellent bench tech.

Similarly, that incompetent IT manager from earlier this year is a solid tech supervisor trying to do IT management as an afterthought to supervising a lab.

I bet that the hopeless systems integrator whose incompetence forced me to rewrite some code three times is a more correctly termed a lab director whose PhD in genetics did not cover systems integration or software specification or data flow analysis.

Lab is more than down-sized: it has been wrong-sized and it is overly invested in IT. At least that is how it looks from my IT keyboard. So I will try not to shoot the messenger--or the over-taxed Lab person doing someone else's job. After all, I would make a pretty bad bench tech or supervisor or director: God willing, no one will ever ask me to try.