The difference between life and death

Pathology results will be faster, much faster, and overall care improved for patients admitted to Bellingen Hospital’s emergency department (ED) with a new ‘point-of-care’ blood testing device to complement an upgraded existing device.

It’s all part of NSW Health’s state-wide effort to introduce a managed point of care testing (PoCT) system in public hospitals which don’t have access to 24-hour pathology laboratories onsite.

The aim, particularly for regional areas like Bellingen Shire, is to give on-the-spot results for certain types of pathology tests so medicos can deliver more timely care for patients.

It’s another coup for Bellingen Hospital, coming hot-on-the-heels of recent roof renovations, and nurse unit manager Liz Blake told the Courier-Sun how these hand-held PoCT devices will benefit the ED team.

“By having reliable point of care devices within the ED, we can obtain results in a timely fashion, which means we can make informed clinical decisions and so improve time to treatment,” Liz said. 

“They provide on-site analysis for the most common pathology tests: blood gases, lactate, haemoglobin, troponin, chemistries and electrolytes and blood coagulation tests.”

NSW Health Pathology’s PoCT implementation manager Andrew Sargeant said it was fantastic news for local patients and clinicians.

“Patients will have on-the-spot pathology results within 10 seconds to around 10 minutes depending on the type of testing and that means clinicians, doctors and nurses can make decisions that can improve that patient’s health outcome,” Andrew said.

“It means potentially lifesaving decisions can be made - like whether to transfer patients to larger facilities for speciality care or keep them onsite, and also it covers a broad spectrum of different ailments.

Andrew said under the old pathology service, blood is taken from the patient with some results not available for hours.

The new system will change that.

“We often see patients presenting with chest pain and these tests are fantastic for diagnosing if they are having a heart attack, or cases of sepsis (inflammation of the body) that will give an indication patients may go into septic shock this is potentially the difference between life and death,” Andrew said.

How it works

PoCT devices are the size of a shoebox. A small volume of blood – usually a couple of drops – is placed on a strip or cartridge and those strips and cartridges are inserted into the devices for them to test.

“One of the benefits of this managed service will be the results will go automatically back into the hospital’s medical records, so not only can the hospital onsite have a look at the results instantly but doctors in nurses in larger facilities can see the results by teleconferencing – this potentially means a reduction of wastages,” Andrew said.