Inter-institutional comparison of surgical biopsy diagnosis turnaround time

Novis DA, Zarbo RJ, Saladino AJ. Inter-institutional comparison of surgical biopsy diagnosis turnaround time. A College of American Pathologists Q-Probes study of 5384 surgical biopsies in 157 small hospitals. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 1998;122:951-956. ( abstract JAMA 1999; 281:880. abstract Yearbook of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine 2000, 316-317. abstract JAMA 1997; 277:1179)

OBJECTIVES: To study the turnaround time (TAT) for rendering diagnoses on routine biopsy specimens, to examine pathology practice variables that influence TAT, and to assess the level of surgeons’ satisfaction with biopsy TAT.

DESIGN: Over a 3-month period, voluntary participants in the College of American Pathologists Q-Probes laboratory quality improvement program prospectively collected TAT data on up to 20 biopsy specimens performed on elective surgical cases, completed questionnaires profiling their institution’s practice characteristics, and had surgeons complete questionnaires indicating their satisfaction with biopsy report TAT.

SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: One hundred fifty-seven private and public small hospitals located in 43 American states (n = 153), Canada (n = 1), and Australia (n = 3).

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The routine surgical biopsy report TATs for 2 testing intervals, each commencing when surgeons acquired the biopsy specimens. One interval concluded when pathologists signed off the biopsy diagnoses, and the other concluded when surgeons received the hard-copy reports.

RESULTS: Pathologists signed off 85.9% of 5384 biopsy diagnoses by the second working day, and surgeons received 88.3% of the hard-copy reports by the fourth working day. In 90% of hospitals participating in this study, pathologists signed off half their biopsy diagnoses between the second and third postcollection days, and 90% of surgeons received half their final hard-copy reports by the fourth postcollection day. Institutional practice variables associated with fewer sign-off and/or hard-copy receipt TATs exceeding the institutional 90th percentile performance benchmarks included yearly surgical caseloads greater than 2000 cases per full-time equivalent pathologist, provision of pathology support services on site, and accreditation of the hospital by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and of the laboratory by the College of American Pathologists. Most (96.4%) surgeons indicated that they were satisfied with hard-copy TATs and that they believed most (98.1%) of the hard-copy TATs had no effect on the lengths of their patients’ hospital stays.

CONCLUSIONS: Pathologists are capable of signing off most routine biopsy diagnoses within 2 working days and delivering the final hard-copy reports to surgeons within 4 working days (both intervals measured from the time that surgeons collect biopsy specimens). Most surgeons report they are satisfied with this level of performance.