Improved pathology test times

A taskforce established to review delays to some of SA Pathology’s test result times has delivered its final report, outlining significant improvements over the past three months.


In May, it was identified that problems with the roll out of a new state-wide pathology IT system, EPLIS, was contributing to extended waiting times for laboratory test results for hospitals and GPs. 

A key issue was a complex initial data-entry requirement of the new system.

Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade said that the EPLIS taskforce has since been a catalyst for improvements.

“While major changes often encounter teething problems, a new system causing delays to crucial pathology test results has the potential to cause patient harm,” Minister Wade said.

“I’m pleased to see the delays to test results have now returned to pre-EPLIS levels in most cases, and in some instances are in fact exceeding the result times prior to the introduction of the new automated system.

“There have been changes to report formatting to make test results easier for clinicians to view and EPLIS now provides a confirmation to doctors that their tests have been lodged.”

Minister Wade thanked the EPLIS taskforce members and Chair, Dr Tom Stubbs, for their involvement and SA Pathology staff, who have played a significant role in improving the result times.

“The staff have been extremely resilient during this difficult period, working long hours, training temporary staff and finding ways to better support clinicians to support patients.

“Their efforts are greatly appreciated.”

Minister Wade said despite the improvements, the report acknowledges there is more to be done.

“It is clear that the improvements are not uniform and there are ‘outlier’ results that need to be monitored and reviewed to help stabilise the times across the system,” Minister Wade said.

“The taskforce’s report recommends ongoing actions to keep improving systems and processes and enhance the technology.”

The EPLIS Taskforce, chaired by Dr Tom Stubbs, included clinicians from each Local Heath Network, GP and consumer representation and senior SA Pathology staff.

“Taskforce members reviewed all incidents related to pathology test delays that were logged in SA Health’s Safety Learning System, including looking back to incidents reported since March 2017, when the pathology laboratory system went live at the first site,” Dr Stubbs said.

“Between March 2017 and May 2018 there were 245 incidents logged relating to EPLIS – the majority relating to test delays.

“Timely results are important to ensure people receive the right care as soon as possible, so any delay is taken seriously. Fortunately, the number of notifications declined rapidly over the three months of the taskforce as turnaround times improved.”

The taskforce recommends ongoing monitoring of all Safety and Quality incidents lodged for EPLIS-related incidents. Other recommendations include to:

  • Remind all SA Health staff of their responsibility to report patient incidents;
  • Extend the measurement of turnaround times monitored to capture from the time clinicians place the order, rather than from the time the specimen is received in the laboratory;
  • Renew focus on community/GP requirements;
  • Further investigate electronic ordering for all public health and hospital sites;
  • Ensure clinician input into further changes to test report formatting;
  • Review turnaround times against new industry benchmarks
  • Ensure logistic and transport requirements don’t impact on timely provision of results;
  • Establish a governance oversight of the optimisation of EPLIS over the next 18 months;

The recommendations have all been accepted by SA Health’s eHealth Systems and SA Pathology.

Prior to the establishment of the taskforce, SA Pathology had been working on an Optimisation Plan to continue implementing EPLIS and to address the delays in turnaround times.

The taskforce endorsed the Optimisation Plan and SA Pathology has established a project team to implement the taskforce recommendations and ongoing improvements to the system.

The EPLIS Taskforce Report is available on the SA Pathology website.

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