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VIHA microbiology services under microscope

The Vancouver Island Health Authority's plans to remove microbiology services from hospital labs in Nanaimo and Campbell River are still on hold following recommendations that more work be done before considering the change.

Last August, VIHA announced it would pause the initiative, which would consolidate all microbiology services at Victoria's Royal Jubilee Hospital, while independent reviewers looked into the proposal.

The review was ordered after front-line physicians and technologists expressed concerns about delays in diagnosing patients and quality of samples.

This week, the health authority received the preliminary results of this review.

The independent consultants – three lab medicine specialists from B.C., Alberta and Ontario – told VIHA that it is hard to tell whether the move is beneficial without more research, said Dr. Richard Crow, VIHA’s chief medical officer.

The reviewers recommend establishing benchmarks for specimen quality and turnaround times that are agreed upon by pathologists at each lab before considering moving the service to Victoria.

Crow said the health authority is already measuring turnaround time at some sites for some types of samples, but these were not agreed to by local staff, so the next step is to talk with the lead pathologist at each site.

“We need clearly outlined turnaround times and transportation contingencies,” he said.

After establishing benchmarks, the health authority will measure the current times and then implement the consolidation in stages, assessing any changes and determining if they have impacts for patients before deciding if consolidation is the best move.

"We can't say what will happen in the end," said Crow, adding that microbiology is just one service offered at the labs and everything else will remain on site.

The health authority believes it makes sense to consolidate microbiology at Royal Jubilee, because it employes staff with a high level of expertise in micro-medical biology, he said.

Most bacteria must grow for 24 to 48 hours before the sample can be analyzed, he added, and "the fact that it's in transit doesn't delay necessarily the length of time to determine the type of bacteria."

Last summer, the health authority estimated consolidation would save about $500,000 annually.

St. Joseph's General Hospital in the Comox Valley also has microbiology services, but because it is an independent hospital, the health authority doesn't direct its services.

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