Point-of-Care Testing: Risk Assessment Basics

As someone who performs point-of-care (POC) testing, you may draw blood for blood sugar (glucose) monitoring tests to help patients with diabetes manage insulin doses or get them ready for surgery. You might collect and process a stool specimen to see if a person has colorectal cancer, using a fecal occult blood test. You might swab someone’s nose or throat to see if they have an infectious disease. There are a lot of ways to find out if someone is sick, and you’re there to help.

Risk is Part of The Job

When you’re working with patients and the specimens they provide for testing, you are at risk of getting sick or hurt. You can also pass sickness you get on the job to the people you work with, to family and friends you see after work, or to people you come in contact with after you leave work. An injury can prevent you and others from working.

Collecting samples from people means you’re handling human specimens, one type of biological material. This material can contain viruses that can cause sickness like influenza. It can also contain bacteria that can cause sickness like strep throat or a staph infection. Viruses and bacteria are known as biological organisms. They can be dangerous to you and those around you. The chemicals you use in testing can create risks, too.

Risk Management on The Job

Exposure to biological material or biological organisms can occur during some POC testing activities, which can sometimes lead to infections. For example, you can breathe in tiny particles that can be produced during testing activities like briskly mixing liquid testing components. You could accidentally get harmful materials on your hands that can be transferred to your mouth. Once in your mouth, those materials can be ingested into your system and can cause infection. You might also transfer harmful materials directly into your body through exposed scratches and cuts on your skin.

You should perform a risk assessment to evaluate what could go wrong during those POC testing activities. A risk assessment can help you determine the likelihood that an undesirable event (such as injury or exposure) might occur, and the consequences (such as infection or disease) if that undesirable event were to occur. Using information from the risk assessment, you can apply controls to reduce the unacceptable risks to an acceptable level before testing is performed.

Reduce Risk to Protect Your Health and the People Around You

There’s something you can do to mitigate risks when you are using testing equipment to analyze biological material or biological organisms. You and your coworkers should follow a five-step process to identify, evaluate, control, and monitor risks.

Step 1: Identify hazards and risks

Step 2: Assess the risks

Step 3: Choose controls that reduce the risks

Step 4: Put the controls into practice

Step 5: Evaluate whether the controls are effective

This process is known as risk management and should be performed at the POC testing site where you work.

POC testing can occur in many different settings, and how you do risk management can depend in part on where you work. Wherever you work to provide care and deliver testing, you can take steps to identify hazards, evaluate risks, and help protect your health and the health of those around you. For more information visit Biological Risk Assessment: General Considerations for Laboratories.