Most people reading this blog are well acquainted with the routine functions performed by NAACLS–reviewing educational programs in the clinical laboratory sciences and granting accreditation or approval. These are very important functions for a wide range of stakeholders, arguably every person in the USA and several other countries. In order to accomplish these functions, and to continually improve the processes and outcomes, there are many ancillary functions and projects which often occur behind the scenes, coming to light only when the final product is rolled out and put into play. I would like to bring a few of the current projects into the light and provide progress updates.
Standards Review and Revision
The Standards are the indicators of quality to which NAACLS (and the programs themselves) compare each program in determining accreditation and approval awards. These indicators are not static, changing as technology and workplace requirements change. Consequently, the Standards need to be reviewed and revised on a regular basis. For the past many months, a NAACLS Task Force on Standards Review and Revision has undertaken this role for all professions in its domain. The product of this activity, a draft Revised Standards, came to the Board on June 1, 2012. The Board reviewed and edited the draft, then elected to release the draft to all stakeholders and the public for review and comment. The draft Revised Standards will soon be posted on the NAACLS website, commentary collected and collated, and the resultant materials will be sent to a Board committee for additional review and editing. The final draft will then be presented to the Board for adoption. This has been a lengthy and involved process accomplished by a representative group of dedicated NAACLS volunteers to whom a collective debt of gratitude is owed.
Online Accreditation Management System (OAMS)
The vast majority of NAACLS functions are done manually and the complexity has increased significantly over the past few years. These functions include maintaining a spreadsheet calendar of each program’s place in the accreditation/approval process, drafting letters and reports for various requirements, and retrieving information from past actions. Having an online management system would relieve staff from many of these functions, reduce error possibilities, standardize letter formats and automate notifications when actions are required. Users would be able to interact with the secure system to share and edit documents, track changes and the flow of statements. Time savings for staff will allow NAACLS to provide new services.
NAACLS Staff began the process of investigating online OAMS by thoroughly mapping all internal processes. RFP’s were then sent to potential vendors. Proposals received were given an initial evaluation and this information was provided to both the Finance and Executive Committees. The Finance Committee reviewed the proposals for merit as well as for fiscal responsibility. The Executive Committee reviewed the findings of the Finance Committee and narrowed the field to the two (2) leading candidates, requesting Staff perform a head-to-head analysis. The issue came back to the full Board on June 1, 2012 and the Board voted to proceed into negotiations with the leading candidate. The effort made by staff has been phenomenal in all phases of this process.
Online Education Program
NAACLS depends on volunteers to perform program reviews against the Standards to arrive at recommendations for accreditation or approval. New volunteers are usually paired with more experienced volunteers as training mentors. Many volunteers also have experience from being program officials or from NAACLS workshops. The training is therefore mostly informal and “learn-as-you-go.” Although functional, this system can lead to misinterpretations of the Standards and the requirements for meeting the Standards. Personality differences among volunteers can also lead to problematic interactions with program officials. Over the past few years, NAACLS has taken steps to remedy these potential problems, beginning with revised survey questionnaires designed to identify problems within the process. The next phase of the improvement process is to develop an online education program for volunteers, providing a more formal and standardized training. An Online Education Task Force has developed educational modules covering NAACLS processes and procedures, with additional modules on Standards interpretation and compliance with the Standards to follow completion of the Standards revision. The task force is beginning the search for an online host and will investigate the possibility of using the OAMS vendor.
These are three of the most prominent projects currently under development. All three demonstrate the efforts toward continuous improvement. The progress made is a testament to the dedication and hard work of volunteers and staff. NAACLS will never be satisfied with “status quo.”
By Gerald A. Phipps, BS, BHS
President, Board of Directors