A critical value is defined as an imminent life-threatening laboratory result requiring immediate physician notification. The concept was first introduced in 1972 and has been widely adopted as a standard of good laboratory practice. Regulatory agencies and federal legislation require that hospitals and laboratories establish a list of critical tests and values and have procedures in place for promptly conveying critical results to the responsible practitioner. Yet, despite the importance of critical values in patient care and requirements to identify and promptly communicate critical results to healthcare providers, there is little standardization of procedures. Communication of critical values has potential for failure, as illustrated in reports submitted to the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority and demonstrated in the medical literature. Standardization of processes related to critical tests, results, and values can positively affect quality of care and patient safety. First, facilities must develop a critical test list and identify critical values or results. Next, implementation of processes that identify critical values and mechanisms to quickly document and communicate critical values to healthcare providers caring for the patient may reduce harm to patients.
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