During the Covid-19 pandemic, one challenge for all medical professionals has been no organized standard of care across the United States. Our Congress and the President just signed a $484 billion relief package to address this, allocating $25 billion for Covid-19 testing and calling for the creation of a National Covid-19 Testing Strategy. Since laboratory professionals are the lynchpin to dealing with this public health challenge, here is our counsel on how to implement it wisely:
- Expand and improve testing. This relief package will provide the necessary financial resources to states and the federal government to quickly expand our diagnostic laboratory testing capacity. It also builds the foundation for a national diagnostic testing strategy (which did not exist before this pandemic) to serve patients and the public. This strategy will inform the way we diagnose, stage and monitor patients exposed to SARS-CoV-2, test those who are most at-risk and increase surveillance efforts (screening) to track the spread.
- Coordinate at the federal, state and lab levels to get scarce medical resources where we need them most. Healthcare workers in the lab workers must have personal protective equipment and scientific testing supplies in order to work in a safe and productive environment. Getting these materials will also help us scale up efforts to meet this unprecedented situation. We need federal and state officials to step in on the supply chain issues immediately with the resources to shield us, arm us and help us beat the virus.
- Allocate funding to reinforce our overstretched workforce. Our nation already faces a shortage of highly-skilled pathologists and laboratory professionals. Covid-19 exacerbates this issue, so this funding must be used to provide training program support, loan forgiveness, hazard pay, and other measures to reinforce the profession. This will only begin to offset the extreme conditions pathologists and lab workers encounter related to Covid-19. But without these steps, we undermine our already-strapped workforce during a time of crisis – and as they deal with other “standard” medical testing needs on top of it. This will only get more intense as we face the onslaught of postponed medical procedures and other healthcare services, so we must invest in upskilling more who can help – and embracing the people we have in place.
- Create a nationally-led taskforce for testing. Our plan, outlined in a letter from our organization to President Trump, calls for the creation of a pandemic testing task force to be assembled at the national level and implemented locally. This should include expertise from laboratory medicine, policymakers and logistics specialists who will make our recommendations reality.
When we give blood samples or undergo any medical testing, we see only a fraction of the people who are working tirelessly to diagnose and treat us. Yes, there are the doctors, nurses and staff on the frontlines. But there is a bigger team of highly-skilled medical laboratory professionals working behind-the-scenes to investigate any specimen and determine the cause of illness. This group has always been critical to the medical team, never more so than now. That’s why we must support the people and processes caring for us in our hour of need.
We will get through this pandemic if we can expand our testing, coordinate our efforts, distribute scarce materials, allocate the funding accordingly to reinforce our field and do so with strong national support. This will protect and empower one of the nation’s biggest unsung champions – our laboratory professionals.
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