May 23, 2018

Achieving Excellence in Healthcare: Expanding the Role of Biomedical Scientists

Hospital care is mainly the domain of physicians who have been trained to assess the signs and symptoms presented by patients and to determine the most likely cause of their ill health. If the doctor is clear enough based on the guidelines of clinical care, then a remedy is prescribed to the patient. The second option to the physician is to request for a number of physical parameters, laboratory tests and medical imagesto be taken to strengthen the recommendation for the appropriate remedies, this is the role of biomedical scientists. Often these routine laboratory tests, which are designed in a plug-and-play fashion, are not too technically challenging. This way anyone with diploma or bachelor’s level training in laboratory techniques is able to conduct these tests routinely.

In many conditions these standard tests are more than enough to obtain effective treatment. However, like many other situations in life, things are not as simple as we wish for and so there exist many diseases with overlapping signs and symptoms. In the situation where a clear determination is not arrived at in the shortest possible time, the first most obvious options for remedy are provided to the patient. It is really a race against time.

At the level of the population, situations as have been described above begin to accumulate and expand over time. The causes of ill health that are not directly targeted due to technical challenges begin to cause present serious conditions. A clear example is the case of malaria, where most fever cases are treated as malaria although there are more than ten pathogens that can also cause fevers and fever-like symptoms. The same can be said about diarrhea, where the obvious causes are bacteria, but we now know viruses do cause some cases of diarrhea.

The incomplete laboratory diagnosis has been allowed to go on for far too long in the public health systems across the world and danger signs are beginning to show. Some advanced countries have started to change the situation by elevating the role of biomedical scientists in the hospitals from one that performs routine tests to a highly trained researcher. In the US, people with PhD are now being employed to work as postdoctoral clinical fellows. These people have the advanced scientific and technical training to operate advanced instruments for clinical sample analysis. The people currently working in clinical laboratories in Ghana cannot perform these types of tests routinely.

 

It is for this purpose that WACCBIP of University of Ghana took the initiative to organize a two-week workshop to train laboratory personnel of the National Catholic Health Service. This is the first step in changing the culture of healthcare in this country and to move towards the new standards of operating research level analysis in the hospitals. People with PhD are already in short supply in Ghana to work in the tertiary education sector. As such, the strategy is to train those who have already committed their career to clinical laboratory work. In the first of this kind of workshop organized at the University of Ghana from 29th January to 2nd February 2018 with the part 2 in June 4-8, 2018, the biomedical scientists clearly demonstrated the capacity to be trained at the masters and PhD levels. It is therefore not a far-fetched objective to put in place a new policy for a 21st century healthcare system in Ghana.  The advantages are many and are beyond the obvious quick remedy for patients, the overall health care cost will dramatically reduce. The most important outcome is to control disease conditions that becoming more and more threatening. They are inadvertently allowed to fester and grow in the patients while futile efforts are made to treat non-existing disease due to overlapping symptoms. The cadre of biomedical scientist in the hospitals and clinics possess qualities that money cannot buy, which makes their upgrade from Biomedical Scientist to Biomedical Research Scientists a much easy exercise. Qualities such as curiosity, intellectual power and strong interest in patient care.

 

It is therefore an opportune time to develop a new kind of graduate programme for biomedical who have been on the job for 5-10 years. It will be important to organize a curriculum development summit at the national level to bring together key biomedical researcher and laboratory stuff to undertake this important exercise. The programme to be developed can be offered by multiple institutions drawn into one system, making it possible to unify the standard of training and to equitably share best practices nationwide. The big goal to shot for is the establishment of a national disease surveillance and control systems that is anchored on some hospital laboratories and a number research centers and institutions.

 

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