Time is of the essence for the patients, scientists and doctors awaiting pathology results from Nexomics, a laboratory services team at Australia’s leading cancer treatment and research institute: Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (Peter Mac). As part of the pathology department, Nexomics offers accredited oncology laboratory tests to support clinical trials and medical testing.
With patient care at the heart of the organisation, Nexomics turned to Slack to streamline communication and improve its pathology processes. Since adopting Slack across its team of scientists and lab technicians, Nexomics has been able to foster fluid conversations, build employee accountability and deliver faster turnaround times for patient test results globally.
‘Before Slack, we experienced the inevitable communication gaps that come from relying on faxes and email while working across multiple laboratories and offices. Slack made it possible for the team to come together in one space.’
Slack channels expedite blood test results
One of the most challenging tasks in a pathology lab is triaging samples from another country; it can involve up to a dozen people in multiple teams across various locations and frequently arrive outside normal work hours. Sample testing also requires tight turnaround times and clinical trial testing can only be performed by a specialised team of people.
Before Slack, communication and sample triage were slower and more cumbersome. There’s physical separation between each lab, the offices and other workspaces. There’s also limited access to email in the labs, and leaving that space to send a message means taking off gloves and gowns. Systems in place did not allow teams to communicate directly with one another.
‘I would come in and have a stack of emails from the night before,’ says Anna Korczynski, a molecular haematologist at Nexomics. ‘It would take a lot of time to read through things and delete things, and make sure I knew what to prioritise.’
Maintaining the integrity of a sample while receiving, processing and sorting it in a timely manner was challenging. Every minute spent sorting through irrelevant email was a minute not spent delivering results to doctors and their patients.
‘We need to move as quickly as possible in the lab. If it’s not useful to the patient, it’s not something that should be done,’ Korczynski says.
With Slack, scientists and lab technicians still have access to the same information being sent to their inboxes – it’s just organised into Slack channels. Channels eliminate the need to craft structured emails in favour of shorter, bite-sized messages. This has enabled planning processes that could take up to an hour – such as triaging add-on tests for a non-urgent sample – to now be done in five minutes. What hasn’t changed is the confidentiality of patient information.
David Lee, director of strategy for Peter Mac and former general manager of pathology at Nexomics, says that ‘Slack creates a more efficient environment for scientists to deliver quality testing. It has become a linchpin in its operations.’
‘Turnaround times matter,’ Lee says. ‘There’s a patient on the other end waiting for the results to see whether they’re eligible for a particular cancer treatment.’
Slack also reduces the time that it takes to get critical input to scientists from pathologists without having to physically leave the sealed lab.
‘Slack helps us tremendously with communication in the lab,’ says Chloe McDermott, a clinical trials scientist with Nexomics. ‘Previously, we would spend an hour a day trying to find the right person to validate a sample. With Slack, we can get the answer instantly.’
When international samples arrive at the Nexomics lab over the weekend, notifications in the #nexomics_samples channel alert the appropriate specialists to time-sensitive cases. In cases for which a doctor needs to include an additional test on the same sample, the doctor’s emails are auto-triaged to #csr_requests instead of waiting in a queue of unread emails, eliminating what could be a 30-minute delay. Samples are often limited in amount, so another sample might need to be drawn if a test is not added in time, which can delay treatment.
‘With Slack, team members don’t have to pause their laboratory work to respond to email queries. It helps to reduce the time needed to get test results critical to patient care.’
Slack as a driving force for building organisational culture
The physical barrier between the sterilised lab and the general office created other challenges for the staff. When scientists were in the lab away from their computer, hospital-wide or department-wide email announcements were often missed. Unlike the rest of the hospital, lab staff don’t have consistent access to the intranet, which creates a barrier to fostering strong, repeatable internal communication. The introduction of Slack replaced the ad-hoc solution of communicating via community notice boards or fridge sticky notes.
‘There was a clear gap in communications, and as a result, both efficiency and culture were suffering,’ says Lee. ‘Slack solved these problems by helping us move away from physically pinning up important notices and sending emails that remain unread.’
Simon Fox, manager of central specimen reception at Nexomics, says that before Slack some members of his team checked their work email infrequently.
‘The fact that we could have Slack running on a second screen and see when people had read an announcement was huge for us,’ Fox says. ‘It meant I didn’t have to speak to each person individually, or hold a huddle when I needed to communicate something.’
The Nexomics team uses Slack to be more efficient and strengthen its culture internally by:
- Uploading internal key performance indicators (KPIs) and running management meetings in #path_management
- Posting shift schedules in #roster six weeks in advance
- Sharing scientific articles published by colleagues in #path_news
- Giving award nominations and recognition for exceptional work in #kudos
- Organising team-building events like a holiday-party scavenger hunt #social #xmas_2019
Slack helps Nexomics employees to see the work that their peers are doing, while also boosting the pathology lab’s accountability, team morale and overall efficiency.
‘By setting up reminders and emoji reactions in Slack channels, tasks that need to get done multiple times a day are followed up on, preventing any mishaps during a big influx of work.’
Streamlining lab operations by bringing critical alerts into Slack
The scientists at Nexomics conduct sophisticated, life-saving tests on extremely sensitive biological materials. As a result, their pathology lab must maintain a highly controlled environment. Slack helps to streamline the lab’s general operations, dramatically improving emergency responses and all but eliminating costly interruptions.
‘A simple thing such as a PA system announcing a visitor had arrived was causing issues with team productivity,’ says Lee. ‘At the same time, pathologists are looking at samples under a microscope, using voice recorders to take notes. During every announcement, all of them were forced to stop working and start again, which was a huge distraction.’
With Slack, visitor access notifications and non-urgent bits of information are shared in the lab’s #visitors and #all_pathology channels. Non-emergency PA system interruptions have been completely eliminated.
Slack has also replaced the lab’s former first-responder system as it relates to keeping samples in a safe environment.
‘If a fridge goes out of temperature range for too long, it can make every single sample or reagent non-viable,’ explains Lee. ‘Before Slack, only one or two people had pagers notifying when a temperature alarm went off. Now, if an alarm goes out, it goes out to #path_alarms, and the person who’s most able to respond to it can quickly do so.’
Fox also uses Slack to pin and automate reminders in the lab’s internal communications channel for changes to routine tasks like filling out patient registration forms.
‘It’s much harder and takes a significant amount of time to go through a day’s worth of request forms to find one missing,’ says Fox. ‘Now, Slack sends a reminder to those responsible several times a day, so we have a much better handle on it.’
In a world where turnaround times matter for doctors and their patients awaiting critical test results, Slack has placed Nexomics at the forefront of health-care innovation. The team of scientists and pathologists have gained valuable time back in their day, improving patient care and paving the way for what’s possible in the health-care industry.