Laboratory Productivity and the Rate of Manual Peripheral Blood Smear Review:

Novis DA, Walsh M, St. Louis MA, Ben-Ezra J, Wilkinson DS. Laboratory Productivity and the Rate of Manual Peripheral Blood Smear Review: A College of American Pathologists Q-PROBES Study of 95,141 Complete Blood Count Determinations Performed in 263 Institutions. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2006;130:633-637.

 Context. Automated laboratory hematology analyzers are capable of performing differential counts on peripheral blood smears with greater precision and more accurate detection of distributional and morphologic abnormalities than those performed by manual examinations of blood smears. Manual determinations of blood morphology and leukocyte differential counts are time-consuming, expensive, and may not always be necessary. The frequency with which hematology laboratory workers perform manual screens despite the availability of labor-saving features of automated analyzers is unknown.

Objective. To determine the normative rates with which manual peripheral blood smears were performed in clinical laboratories, to examine laboratory practices associated with higher or lower manual review rates, and to measure the effects of manual smear review on the efficiency of generating complete blood count (CBC) determinations.

Design. From each of 3 traditional shifts per day, participants were asked to select serially, 10 automated CBC specimens, and to indicate whether manual scans and/or reviews with complete differential counts were performed on blood smears prepared from those specimens. Sampling continued until a total of 60 peripheral smears were reviewed manually. For each specimen on which a manual review was performed, participants indicated the patient’s age, hemoglobin value, white blood cell count, platelet count, and the primary reason why the manual review was performed. Participants also submitted data concerning their institutions’ demographic profiles and their laboratories’ staffing, work volume, and practices regarding CBC determinations. The rates of manual reviews and estimations of efficiency in performing CBC determinations were obtained from the data.

Setting. A total of 263 hospitals and independent laboratories, predominantly located in the United States, participating in the College of American Pathologists Q-Probes Program.

Results. There were 95141 CBC determinations examined in this study; participants reviewed 15423 (16.2%) peripheral blood smears manually. In the median institution (50th percentile), manual reviews of peripheral smears were performed on 26.7% of specimens. Manual differential count review rates were inversely associated with the magnitude of platelet counts that were required by laboratory policy to trigger smear reviews and with the efficiency of generating CBC reports. Lower manual differential count review rates were associated with laboratory policies that allowed manual reviews solely on the basis of abnormal automated red cell parameters and that precluded performing repeat manual reviews within designated time intervals. The manual scan rate elevated with increased number of hospital beds. In more than one third (35.7%) of the peripheral smears reviewed manually, participants claimed to have learned additional information beyond what was available on automated hematology analyzer printouts alone.

Conclusion. By adopting certain laboratory practices, it may be possible to reduce the rates of manual reviews of peripheral blood smears and increase the efficiency of generating CBC results.