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Starting a user group for a chemistry analyzer.

A pathologist invited colleagues from far-flung facilities to share information and experiences about the instrument they all use.

Early this year, about 80 regional users of a major model of chemistry analyzer gathered for our first user group meeting. This article will discuss reasons to form a user group, suggestions for getting organized, and tips for success.

Six months before, impressive attendance at a user group meeting organized by the manufacturer had indicated potential interest in the formation of a more permanent association. I walked away from that meeting newly informed about a variety of subjects but unable to think of a single thing I planned to do differently. At that moment I decided to organize a group of colleagues who would share their observations toward improving each others' laboratories in a pragmatic way.

* Former and present goals. In the past, many user groups were formed in self-defense or for self-support, without the assistance of the manufacturer. They resembled labor unions in that their members had felt a need to unite. In their unity, they shared their suggestions, including demands made to the manufacturer. Some user groups matured and became support organizations designed to resolve common problems.

Today, the successful user group should essentially be a support net for users. The group should make an effort to establish communication links among users and with the manufacturer. As I said in my introduction at our group's recent meeting, "The goal today is to build bridges. The hope is to learn to work together to identify opportunities we can grasp ourselves and with the manufacturer. Communication should be directed at identifying problems, successes, and potential opportunities."

* No wheel-spinning. Some users develop their own fine systems for training, quality control, calibration, operations, and service. Rather than reinventing these assorted wheels, each laboratory represented in the group can benefit from joint identification of successful efforts that can serve as models for other users.

Similarly, some laboratories knowingly or unknowingly develop patterns that are unnecessary and inefficient. Understanding how other laboratories define aspects of their policies and procedures often uncovers the weaknesses in one's own institution. In either case, the goal is to identify opportunities to improve laboratory efficiency and quality.

The manufacturer's role is crucial. A company can truly learn about the actual problems and strengths of the equipment it makes only by listening to professionals who use it in the real world. Often the perceptions of sales representatives differ from those of laboratorians.

In expressing their views on common issues, group members provide insight into correcting and improving the instrumentation. Communication should take place in both directions as the manufacturer helps users understand why particular systems were developed in a certain way.

* Plans in gear. My first step was to contact representatives of the manufacturer, who enthusiastically offered their assistance. They provided an updated mailing list and almost complete financial support. It was decided to charge a nominal fee per attendee to help guarantee the attendance of those who registered.

I selected two speakers outside the region. One had performed timed workflow studies using the manufacturer's analyzer. The other, who works directly for the manufacturer, discussed implications of CLIA '67 and CLIA '88, including linearity studies. The manufacturer paid all expenses for the speakers.

* Invitations. Several mailings were sent to users. The first, sent several months before the meeting, announced the intent to organize a user group and solicited help with organization and ideas. The second mailing, a brief letter to respondents, promised a survey and more details to come.

The third mailing, sent about a month later to self-identified chemistry supervisors on the mailing list, included an eight-page, single-spaced, computer-generated utilization survey packed with questions. Excerpts are shown in Figure I. A registration form was enclosed with the fourth and final mailing, which solicited the return of the survey from those who had no already sent it back.

The primary focus of the meeting would be a discussion of results of the survey, which I had developed with the assistance of a chemistry supervisor. The survey asked about many aspects of utilization, including training, daily operation, quality control, maintenance, interfaces, alert limits, linearity, service, ordering and delivery from the manufacturer, and even such details as the type of gloves used in each laboratory. The response rate to the survey mailing was just under 50%.

I selected the date and site of the daylong meeting and planned the agenda. A local representative of the manufacturer provided invaluable support by making the reservations, planning the menu, contacting users to assure their attendance and give directions, and handling registration.

* First meeting. To my relief, the weather in the Boston area on the day of the January meeting was clear. I stated in my introductory remarks that the meeting was intended not for passively absorbing information but for active participation and debate. Attendees responded eagerly.

I distributed copies of the survey findings and spent two hours summarizing them. Participants openly discussed such issues as the best way to change lots, how to use patient replicate determinations, and methods for performing QC. Representatives from the manufacturer spoke about imminent releases and responded to users' questions and concerns.

Afterward, attendees spoke and wrote about how much they had benefited from the focus on use. In a note of appreciation the manufacturer said, "You were able to get the heart of concerns and issues, and for this, all of us at [company] are grateful, for we can focus more directly on the needs of our customers."

* Second meeting. The user group will convene again soon, probably in the fall. I will be interested to hear about changes made by users and by the manufacturer based on revelations at the first meeting.

We will probably focus on the issues that stirred the most discussion. Meanwhile, those who attended the first meeting will continue to develop professional and social contacts made there.

* Bridges. A user group builds bridges. It makes both the user and the manufacturer stronger and better able to fulfill needs for more efficient and higher-quality laboratory operations. A user group creates and recreates product loyalty by reinforcing the commitment of both sides to get together so that they may share, learn, and change. Harvey W. Kaufman, M.D. is a staff pathologist at New England Memorial Hospital in Stoneham, Mass., and at Union Hospital in Lynn, Mass.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Kaufman, Harvey W.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Previous Article:Tips on evaluating and monitoring quality.
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