DGMC wins 2017 Medical Lab of the Year Award

  • Published
  • By Merrie Schilter-Lowe
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – The David Grant USAF Medical Center Clinical and Pathology Laboratory at Travis Air Force Base, California, bested both foreign and domestic laboratories to be named the 2017 Medical Laboratory of the Year.

The award recognizes “the unsung heroes who demonstrate their contributions to quality patient care,” according to a press release from the Medical Laboratory Observer, a national peer-reviewed publication that sponsors the annual competition.    

A photo of the 91 military and civilian lab members will be on the cover of the magazine’s April issue and an article about their accomplishments will appear inside the monthly publication. 

Award competition was “intense,” said Col. (Dr.) Michael Higgins, 60th Medical Group commander.  He noted that the first- and second-place winners, respectively, are the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center lab in Los Angeles, and the University of Kentucky Healthcare Enterprise lab in Lexington, Kentucky.

The lab is the first military service lab to win the award and it was their first time entering the competition, said Lt. Col. Patrick Kennedy, 60th Medical Diagnostics and Therapeutic Squadron Clinical Laboratory and Pathology Flight commander.  The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology claimed the title in 2006, but the organization was de-established in 2011 under Base Realignment and Closure efforts.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by an international competition for all the hard work our team has put forth.  Our group commander challenged us to lead the way as a ‘trusted care and high-reliability organization,’” said Kennedy.  “Through utilization of state of the art technology, coupled with deliberate development of our airmen, the DGMC lab is doing just that.”   

Lt. Col. Jimmie Labit, 60th MDTS laboratory services chief, and Chief Master Sgt. Margie Quicanopalacios, 60th MDTS laboratory and pathology flight manager, traveled to Nashville, Tennessee March 27 with nine other staff members to pick up their plaque at the annual Clinical Laboratory Management Association Conference.  

Staff members provided a management and team building presentation during last year’s conference and were selected to make four presentations this year, said Kennedy.

DGMC operates the Air Force’s largest clinical laboratory, supporting 465 health care providers and 325,000 patients per year. Technicians perform 1.2 million tests annually in chemistry, special chemistry, hematology, coagulation, immunology, microbiology, point-of-care testing, histology, cytology and transfusion services. 

To win the award, the lab had to excel in six categories: customer service, productivity, teamwork, education and training, strategic outlook and lab inspections.

To improve patient care, DGMC implemented the MiCare secure messaging service, which allows patients to access their health information online.  The lab also initiated an auto-validation process that reduces the time it takes to provide test results to medical providers by more than 30 percent.

To be more productive, a team designed a plan to upgrade the lab in February with a $7.8 million automated robotic testing center, making it possible to run more tests, more efficiently and with fewer staff members, said Labit.

A new analyzer in microbiology also cut processing time from 15 minutes to five while increasing test accuracy by 20 percent.      

Staff members also improved the tuberculosis management process, reducing test wait time from 72 to 24 hours, which also decreased the time patients are isolated. 

“We have many trials that our civilian counterparts do not encounter, such as high staff turnover due to the military culture and the inexperience of our technicians,” said Kennedy.  About 85 percent of the technicians are active-duty members with an average of three years’ of lab experience compared to their civilian lab counterparts with 14 years, he said. 

Additionally, active-duty members must complete other military training that takes them out of the lab, as well as perform additional duties. They also are subject to frequent reassignments.

"Turnover is a special challenge that our military laboratory faces,” said Labit.  “We can experience anywhere from 33 percent to 50 percent turnover annually.”  Focusing on leadership and a strong training program are key to meeting the challenge, he said.

To bolster training opportunities, lab leadership implemented a daily four-hour “all hands on deck” program, so senior leaders and supervisors can mentor and work alongside junior staff members to ensure they master needed skills.

Military members also receive extra training focusing on the skills and competencies needed during a deployment. 

“Staff members provide laboratory services, blood support and other services as needed,” said Kennedy.  “These additional levels of training and responsibility are not found in the civilian world and are a unique aspect of the DGMC lab’s utilization, education and training programs,” he said. 

In the area of teamwork, lab members meet daily to share lessons learned, innovative ideas and patient and staff safety concerns. 

DGMC’s pathologists travel around the world providing medical oversight for seven military medical facilities, said Kennedy. Lab technicians also support the Clinical Investigation Facility’s research efforts at DGMC. 

The lab also partners with several organizations, including the Department of Veteran Affairs to support testing for veterans, and the Air Force and Armed Services Blood Programs, ensuring the safety, potency and purity of blood products. 

The lab’s strategic plan focuses on three areas: improving efficiency through better training, standardization and communication; focusing on professional development for staff members; and implementing as many best practices as possible to better serve patients.   

As for regulatory inspections, the lab’s record is “outstanding,” said Kennedy.  The quality assurance team, which includes members from all departments, conducts regular audits and process improvement initiatives, ensuring the lab has a strong program.

The lab is accredited by the College of American Pathologists and consistently passes U.S. Food and Drug Administration and American Association of Blood Bank regulatory inspections. 

“Not only do we maintain six accreditations, we have received outstanding feedback from our various inspectors,” said Labit.

Additionally, the lab has “the largest and most robust” accredited medical laboratory technician clinical training program in the United States, added Kennedy.