New Year is synonymous with a fresh start, with resolutions to do something different, give something up, try something new or change your habits.
Now, while we believe it’s been a good year for the world of hair testing, there’s always room for improvement. That’s why we’ve pulled together our top three New Year’s resolutions for the industry.
1. Think client first
Our first 2018 resolution for the hair testing industry? To work harder to translate research, test applications, results and their interpretation to a wider audience. Ours is an industry where jargon and acronyms can bamboozle, and where the difference between full understanding and confusion can seriously affect test subjects’ lives.
Hair testing labs are owned, managed and staffed by scientists: people who research, analyse and search for answers. They walk the walk, and talk the, (technical) talk - but while this is perfectly appropriate scientific community events like Society of Hair Testing meetings, sharing our findings with legal professionals or social workers requires a wholly different approach.
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When working with social workers, lawyers, employers, schools, government bodies, local authorities and others outside of the hair testing industry, we must strive to move away from the scientific. Instead, we need to clarify hair testing guidelines, demystify the testing process, and help clients to understand how and why hair testing is possible. Talking to clients means doing all we can to turn our complex subject into an accessible solution.
2. Check and refine processes
For a solution as complex as hair drug and alcohol testing, it is vital to ensure the validity of results by having rigorous processes in place - and sticking to them. In 2017, two major cases threw the reputation and reliability of hair testing into question, both of which could and should have been avoided
In October, the Mail reported that over 10,000 positive samples identified by Manchester’s Randox Testing Services laboratory required retesting, after it was suspected that Randox workers had been falsifying test results. Evidence was compromised and trial results rendered questionable - innocent people may have been imprisoned as a consequence.
Throughout 2017, investigations have continued into Canadian clinic Motherisk, where Dr. Gideon Koren conducted hair drug and alcohol tests in child protection cases from the late 1990s to 2015. It turns out these tests were flawed in more ways than one, potentially affecting over 35,000 results.
In both cases, it was not the science that was flawed. Running a full complement of tests, monitoring the chain of custody and ensuring comprehensive, standardised training for lab staff could have prevented the Motherisk scandal. At Randox, the case was more complex, two rogue employees are thought to have tampered with results. But a focus on multi-level quality control process may have identified questionable results before release.
Testing laboratories’ work can have a life-changing impact on the lives of their subjects. As such, we are bound to be the arbiters of quality and reassurance: accreditation is vital, and adhering to Society of Hair Testing guidelines is a must.
3. Ask for detail
The role of a hair testing lab is twofold: testing donor samples is just one stage of the process. In any case where hair drug or alcohol testing is needed, interpretation is crucial. Drug or alcohol consumption is not a black-or-white issue, and there are times at which a positive result may not tell the whole story. You can find out more about our views on interpretation in social care here.
In situations like these, test results must be combined with the wider details of the case to get a picture of what’s really happening. In social work, for example, a test result can make or break a family. If social workers want results that are truly accurate, they must give the testing lab full case details of exactly what they are trying to find, and any pertinent case details that may explain the results.
Testing laboratories and their clients must create closer working relationships - and it’s down to our own industry to ensure these bridges are built.
Our three resolutions all have one thing in common: ensuring best practice to improve the reputation performance of hair drug and alcohol testing and how it’s applied. Every scientific approach should be applied with ongoing research and learning at its core, and the same is true of our industry. With the right procedures, the correct approach, and a collaborative approach between testing lab and customer, the accuracy, usefulness and validity of hair drug and alcohol testing is undeniable through 2018 and beyond.