Improving venous blood specimen collection practices : method development and evaluation of an educational intervention program

Abstract: Background: About 60%–80% of decisions regarding diagnosis and treatment are based on laboratory test results. Low adherence to venous blood specimen collection (VBSC) guidelines may lead to erroneous or delayed test results, causing patient harm and high healthcare costs. Educational intervention programs (EIPs) to update, improve and sustain VBSC practices are seldom evaluated. After testing a self-reported venous blood sampling questionnaire, the overall aim of this thesis was to evaluate the impact of a large-scale EIP on healthcare personnel’s VBSC practices.Methods: The study settings were primary healthcare centres (PHCs) in northern Sweden. Participants were VBSC personnel. Data consisted of a VBSC questionnaire of self-reported practices, records of low-level haemolysis index in serum samples (specimen quality indicator), and interviews reflecting VBSC practices. First, experts on questionnaires and VBSC were consulted, and test-retest statistics were used when testing the VBSC questionnaire for validity and reliability. Thereafter, we evaluated the impact of a short, large-scale EIP with a before-after approach comparing self-reported VBSC questionnaire of two county councils. The personnel of the county councils (n = 61 PHCs) were divided into an intervention group (n = 84) and a corresponding control group (n = 79). In order to test changes in blood specimen quality we monitored haemolysis in serum samples (2008, n = 6652 samples and 2010, n = 6121 samples) from 11 PHCs. Finally, 30 VBSC personnel from 10 PHCs reported their experiences. The interview questions were open-ended with reflective elements and the interviews were analysed by qualitative content analysis.Results: The VBSC questionnaire was found to be valid and could be used to identify risk of errors (near misses) and evaluate the impact of an EIP emphasising VBSC guideline adherence. The intervention group demonstrated several significant improvements in self-reported practices after the EIP, such as information search, patient rest, test request management, patient identification, release of venous stasis, and test tube labelling. The control group showed no significant improvements. In total, PHCs showed minor differences in blood specimen quality. Interviews summarized VBSC personnel experiences in the overall theme: education opened up opportunities for reflection about safety.  Conclusion: This thesis is, to our knowledge, the first to evaluate the impacts of a large-scale EIP on VBSC practices. The VBSC questionnaire and monitoring for low-level haemolysis reflected VBSC practices. The frequently occurring near-miss markers made it possible to compare and benchmark VBSC practices down to the healthcare unit and hospital ward. The short, general EIP opened up opportunities for reflection about safety and improved VBSC practices in PHCs with larger deviations from guidelines. EIPs that provide time for reflection and discussion could improve VBSC further. Directed EIPs focused on specific VBSC flaws might be more effective for some near misses in VBSC practices, while some near misses must be changed at a different level in the system.Clinical relevance: Our results indicate that monitoring and counteracting the near misses in VBSC practices is a well-functioning preventive action. We propose that the VBSC monitoring instruments (VBSC questionnaire & haemolysis index) we used and the EIP strategy proposed should be tested in additional countries with different healthcare settings. It is suggested that a national program intended to identify near misses and prevent VBSC errors be developed in the healthcare system. General e-learning programs may be cheaper than, and as effective as, the EIP program and may be performed everywhere and any time. Systematic planning, useful for reflection and with focus on the specific elements in a skill, together with VBSC guidelines, could probably increase improvements. Our studies have led to deeper and extended knowledge of the impact of an EIP on VBSC practices. Our results can be used when considering future VBSC practice interventions. Using a model for practical skills in nursing to describe VBSC in a more holistic and less technical way might highlight VBSC as a practical nursing skill.