Objective: To evaluate the error rates of organism identification and antibiotic susceptibility proficiency testing challenges before, during, and after microbiology laboratory restructuring in Alberta.
Methods: Alberta Health substantially reduced and redistributed laboratory funds to the regional health authorities in 1995, forcing a dramatic restructure of services. Many rural hospitals expanded their microbiology test menus, and urban centers consolidated microbiology testing into a centralized high-volume laboratory. The Laboratory Proficiency Testing Program of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta mailed regular test profile surveys to microbiology laboratories during the restructure period to determine the type and extent of changes in services. Based on the types of tests and the extent of analysis being done, most rural B-level and some C-level laboratories were reclassified to the A level. The Laboratory Proficiency Testing Program reviewed the error rates of proficiency challenges based on the performance of different levels of laboratories before and after the period of restructure.
Results: Overall performance has improved according to the number of errors documented on identification and susceptibility challenges for laboratories that remained at the same classification (ie, A or C). The number of major identification errors for laboratories that were reclassified increased, but the rate of major susceptibility errors decreased. More reclassified laboratories do not have dedicated registered technologist(s) who perform microbiology testing and are not supervised by an on-site pathologist and/or medical microbiologist compared with laboratories that remained at the same classification.
Conclusions: Microbiology laboratory restructuring will have adverse effects on the quality of complex testing if experienced technologists are not retained and services are not medically supervised.