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Pathology lab turnaround times cut in half

Pathology lab turnaround times cut in half

Lab Technologist Marilyn Harnarine (right) delivers a tray of slides to Dr. Paula Blanco, Pathologist. Patients are getting diagnoses much faster now that pathology turnaround times have been cut in half.

“Do I have cancer or not?” Waiting to hear the news is incredibly stressful, but patients are getting faster diagnoses thanks to improved Pathology Laboratory turnaround times – they’ve been cut in half since March.

Dr. Diponkar Banerjee, Division Head of Anatomical Pathology, and William Parks, Manager of Pathology, made changes that have reduced the turnaround time for lab specimens from an average of nine days to 4.5 days. The improvement helps all patients, but particularly cancer patients, who represent 60 to 70 percent of cases handled.

“They’ll get the diagnoses faster and caregivers can make their treatment plans faster,” said Dr. Banerjee, adding that even if it’s bad news, it’s better to know sooner. “The anxiety of waiting is very significant.”

Parks said the lab receives 300 to 400 specimens per day and produces 2,000 to 2,500 slides per day, putting TOH among the busiest hospitals in Canada.

“We’ve really streamlined the process,” said Parks, who described his work as being like an orchestra conductor. “An orchestra of highly trained musicians can sound like hell if they’re not being directed properly. We got out of synch but now we’re pulling it back together.”

The many changes made since March include:

  • Regulating the workflow. Slide production is more evenly paced and pathologists receive several small batches of slides throughout the day for analysis, rather than one large batch at the end of the day. Clinics sending specimens, such as TOH Breast Health Centre, support the change.
  • Making the workload consistent among pathologists, with a cap of 200 slides per day.
  • Adding regular evening and Saturday shifts for technologists.

Parks said it’s hard to pinpoint the cost savings, but staff numbers are the same, overtime has been reduced and the health-care system as a whole saves when turnaround times are shorter.

Other results include a backlog that’s significantly reduced, fewer rush cases that disrupt work flow, higher staff morale, lower staff stress, and more time for staff to spend teaching residents and doing academic work (the publication rate is improving).

“Everyone’s very happy,” said Dr. John Veinot, Head of the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Department. “It always boosts our morale when we provide better patient care. We have a great team.”


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  • Mary Ellen Reeler says:

    On Aug. 2, 2017, I had an excisional biopsy of a neck lymph node done at the Ottawa General Hospital.

    As of today, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, I am STILL waiting for my pathology report.

    Mary Ellen Reeler

  • The Ottawa Hospital says:

    Hi Mary,

    We’re very sorry for the delay, and completely understand your frustration. Please contact our Patient Advocacy Department, who will make sure your feedback is recorded, and get you in touch with the right department for your report. You can reach them at 613-798-5555 ext.13377 or

    Thank you,
    TOH Communications

  • Mary Ellen Reeler says:

    Thank you for following up on my case. I have now received my results.

  • Elisabeth Houle says:

    I had my Biospy done on the 17th of Aug/2018 Riverside Hospital and its been hell waiting for the report, The Biospy was for my left side of my tonsils and left side lymp nodes

  • Deana Curcic says:

    On 3 August my father saw a doctor.
    On 10 September he had his surgery, where even the doctor was shocked how big the tumor has gotten.
    On 9 October he was hospitalised with a blood clot and doctors have identified that his tumor has spread. Results are still NOT in!

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