New CST Cerner system supports critical testing work

It’s an unprecedented time to be working in a laboratory. Staff are facing higher volumes of tests than they’ve seen in their careers. They’re working with newer test collections, like the saline gargle rinse. And they’re dealing with the inherent challenges of needing to quickly and accurately handle thousands of COVID-19 samples every day.

For Dr. David Schaeffer, Head of Pathology for Vancouver General Hospital and the Interim Regional Head for Pathology for Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Providence Health Care (PHC), it’s about taking things day by day, moment by moment. He knows how critical it is to get things right.

“I’m a father myself, and I obviously understand the anxiety you’re faced with when your child or a family member is symptomatic,” says David.

Access to accurate data is key for testing sites

In the early days of the pandemic, David – who is based out of Vancouver General Hospital – began to notice that some clinical units had more timely information than him. He dug into why this was happening, and found that those colleagues worked at hospitals that had rolled out the CST Cerner clinical information system.

“They were utilizing the power that was Cerner to make decisions in almost real time,” says David, adding that the system helps leaders make timely, well-informed decisions around things such as patient flow and laboratory testing capacity. “So, I realized that we needed to roll this out in a more regional fashion because having access to accurate data is key.”

Ten COVID-19 collection centres, across VCH and PHC, are now using the CST Cerner system. Because of this, leaders like David have access to electronic data that tells them how many tests will be coming into the labs and helps them structure their response accordingly.

“For those (collection) sites that weren’t on CST Cerner, we were a bit blind as to what was coming our way, until we opened the door to the courier van and saw the bags and bags of swabs.”

Success hinges on working together and shared understanding  

During a global pandemic, success hinges on people working together – especially in health care. Health authority boundaries have blurred, and expertise and challenges are being shared provincially and even broader for the greater good.

That’s where David sees another benefit in a system like CST Cerner, which is currently in use by more than 11,000 out of 35,000 staff and medical staff across VCH, PHC and the Provincial Health Services Authority. As this system is rolled out to additional health care facilities, it necessitates that these organizations agree on standard terms and processes, based on best practice.

Take the recently introduced saline gargle rinse COVID-19 test, for instance. After the test was introduced to the public as an alternative to nasal swabs, David saw that it was being touted as a “spit test” in the media. There is a lot of difference between a nasopharyngeal swab, a saline gargle rinse, and a spit test, he explains.

“By using a standard form to enter orders into CST Cerner, everyone understood that the agreed name for this test would be the ‘saline gargle rinse.’ This meant that these tests would arrive at the lab properly identified, minimizing delays for patients and staff.”

Watch the video above to hear more about Dr. Schaeffer‘s experience with CST Cerner during COVID-19. And in case you missed it, watch this video featuring Leanne Heppell, Chief Operating Officer, Acute Care, and Chief of Professional Practice & Nursing, PHC, on how CST Cerner has proved even more critical during COVID-19.

April 11-17 is National Medical Laboratory Week! Thank you to all the dedicated medical lab staff who play a crucial role in the response to COVID-19 and all areas of health care in B.C.