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Creating a newsletter for the laboratory.

This attractive form of communication disseminates information to lab staff, physicians, and outside health professionals, building rapport throughout the hospital community and beyond.

FOR SEVERAL YEARS my coworkers and I tossed around the idea of starting a laboratory newsletter. Nothing fancy--just a short publication to help open the lines of communication with our medical staff. Unfortunately, the project never got off the ground. Who had the time to take on such an initiative?

As the laboratory in our 195-bed hospital continued to grow in size and sophistication, it became clear that an internal newsletter would be a perfect way to open the lines of communication between our department and the medical staff. While we routinely announced changes in our operation to physicians via memoranda from the chief pathologist, we had the unsettling feeling that important information was quickly finding its way to the circular file.

Imagine my surprise when our laboratory manager asked me to see to it that our newsletter finally became a reality. He said, "I know that if I give this project to you, it will get done." I was pleased by his confidence in me--but what did I know about producing a newsletter? Not much. Still, the time had come to stop talking and start doing.

I've never considered myself a writer, but as I began thinking about the challenge ahead of me, I assured myself that I could turn the project into a success. Producing clear, thorough communication in writing is a routine aspect of my duties as quality assurance coordinator of our laboratory. I oversee not only all QA activities but also the education and training of our staff. I have written many internal procedures during my years with the hospital; such guidelines must be intelligible and complete. Supervisors often asked me to help them with materials that they were writing. I had been preparing for my new assignment all the time without ever realizing it.

* Defining our product. Before we could forge ahead, many questions needed to be addressed. Should we obtain anyone's stamp of approval, for example? I found out that we should; the vice president in charge of the laboratory gave us a green light. Who would foot the bill for professional printing if we decided to go that route? We were fortunate that our outreach laboratory--the branch of our department responsible for bringing specimens in house for testing from places such as physicians' offices and nursing homes--promised to provide financial support if we needed it.

Now on to the specifics of the newsletter: For whom should the publication be geared? What kind of material should we include and how technical should it be? Should the articles be original or reprinted with permission from other sources, and if original, who should write them? How many pages should we generate? Should our newsletter be typed and photocopied or typeset and printed? How often should it be distributed?

To answer these questions, we defined three major goals. One primary purpose was to increase the medical staff's understanding of laboratory services: to describe the services we offer, to explain certain changes in lab policies and procedures, and to provide current information on various aspects of laboratory medicine. Second, we wanted to create a forum for keeping physicians up to date on regulatory changes related to testing that might affect their operations as well as our own. A third consideration was to use the newsletter as a marketing tool in the community at large.

With the third goal in mind, we decided to distribute our publication to nursing homes, local industry, and physicians in surrounding communities as well as to our own lab staff, physicians, hospital administrators, and nurses. Mailings would also go to current clients of our outreach laboratory and to veterinarians, hospice managers, and visiting nurses' associations.

Because our readers would come from a variety of backgrounds, the writing could not be highly technical. We felt that physicians might enjoy material that required less concentration than technical information they already had to read in volume.

We decided that the articles would be primarily staff written. Our pathologists asked to approve all copy. We would start with a four-page quarterly printed by a professional printer.

* Getting started. The hospital's manager of public relations helpfully responded to my question, "What do I do now?" He provided a quick course on publishing, explaining such matters as current copyright law and how to format copy on word processing software. To my relief, he volunteered the services of his department in designing and laying out the newsletter as well as in making arrangements with the printer.

Our lab staff enthusiastically participated in a contest I held called Name the Newsletter. Suggestions flooded in, but none really hit the mark. In a brainstorming session with the supervisor of our outreach lab, I decided to expand one employee's suggestion, "The Scope," to "Under the Scope." This seemed appropriate since we would, in a sense, be putting our laboratory under the microscope for all readers to see. The PR staff produced an attractive design incorporating our hospital's logo at the top of the first page.

What should we write about first? Our two pathologists agreed to alternate writing an article for each issue; I would write, assign, or obtain the rest. The format allowed enough space for two one-page articles, leaving plenty of room for shorter sections on a variety of subjects. Continuity would be derived from running columns on different aspects of the same themes in each issue.

Partly because we were planning our publication before the CLIA '88 rules were final, I wanted to start the column on regulatory changes right away. Another column would describe a different piece of lab equipment each time; we felt that promoting better understanding of our instrumentation would contribute to more cost-effective utilization of lab services. Other items would include recent changes in test methodology and specimen collection requirements. If space allowed, I hoped to include a cartoon or trivia column relating to clinical laboratory topics. My wish list grew into columns that have remained standard: "Regulatory Update," "Instrument in Focus," "Tests, Trends & Tidbits," and "Did You Know That..."

* Writing begins. With a proposed deadline for release of the first issue barely a month away, I wrote an article on D-dimer assays, which our lab offered but our physicians seldom asked for. While we occasionally received orders for fibrin degradation products, the medical staff didn't seem to realize that D-dimer was frequently the preferred procedure. With the help of the hematology supervisor, I gathered product inserts, manufacturers' information, and journal reprints, which I continued to read until I had a good grasp of the information. My article included general background information on fibrin clot formation and fibrinolysis and a summary of the test methodology and indications for ordering such a test.

Eager to make our publication a success, my colleagues were willing to contribute their fair share. I assigned our first "Instrument in Focus" column, which would cover a specific piece of equipment in every issue, to our chemistry supervisor. Our chief pathologist contributed an article on DNA histograms. I wrote a brief article on a lab policy change regarding critical values. l included an advertisement for our outreach lab. After all, they were footing the bill!

* Layout. To write and edit, I use an IBM personal computer with WordPerfect software (WordPerfect Corp., Orem, Utah). Our "Instrument in Focus" columns, handwritten by section supervisors, are later keyed into my system so that I can edit them easily.

When an article is ready to be printed, I back up the file on a floppy disk and send it to the public relations department. The PR staff imports the copy to a Macintosh SE, on which they use PageMaker graphics software (Aldus Corp., Seattle, Wash.) for layout and design. They also perform the important function of making the copy fit by breaking it up into columns of varying lengths and using different typefaces. The final draft is returned to me for one last look before everything is sent to a local printer.

* Alternatives. Every laboratory producing a newsletter will want to design the publication to fit its own needs. As long as a newsletter is informative and current and projects a positive image of the lab, it's on the right track.

While we chose to have our newsletter printed professionally, any laboratory, regardless of size, can produce a newsletter with a typewriter and a photocopying machine. Those who prefer something more refined but can't tap the expertise of a public relations department might try one of the many easy-to-use desktop publishing programs on the market.

So far, all our articles have been written in house, but we may consider reprinting material from other sources in the future. Many publications permit reprints to be made at no charge if they will be used for educational purposes and the original source is properly identified. Obtaining reprint permission usually just involves writing a letter to the publisher of the book or the editor of the journal in which the material first appeared.

Newsletters can be modest or elaborate, with articles of any desired length, set up in columns or across the full width of the page. They can be stuffed into physicians' mailboxes in the medical records department or mailed to outside health professionals who interact with the laboratory.

* Challenge met. Every time I admire the eight issues that we have published to date, I feel a reassuring sense of accomplishment. The marketing representative from our outreach lab has received a tremendous amount of positive feedback on our publication from office managers in various fields of health care. Local physicians' office staffs have told us how valuable the information in our newsletter has been to them. They particularly like the material furnished in our "Regulatory Update" column, which continues to offer current reports on the new CLIA '88 and OSHA regulations.

We are proud to provide our customers with some of the facts they need to deliver effective patient care.

Hargrove is laboratory QA coordinator at Lancaster-Fairfield Community Hospital, Lancaster, Ohio.

Questions to ask when planning a newsletter

* What is the primary reason for creating this newsletter?

* Must I obtain someone's approval before setting this project in motion?

* Who will read the newsletter?

* What kind of information should be included--general, technical, or both?

* Should the articles be staff written, assigned to people outside the lab, reprinted with permission from other sources, or a combination?

* Which staff member(s) will write and edit the articles?

* How many pages should the newsletter be?

* Should the format be typed and photocopied or printed professionally? If the latter, who will pay for it?

* How often should the newsletter be published?

* Who will handle the mailing and maintain the mailing list?
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Hargrove, Catherine A.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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