Optimising the blood culture (BC) pathway is essential to ensure maximal benefits for patients. There are national standards for expected turnaround times. At our acute teaching hospital, there was limited data on this. We aimed to map the local BC pathway to identify obstacles and areas for improvement in the process.


In this prospective study, all BCs taken from adult patients in the Emergency Department (ED) on allocated days over three months were included. Study days were chosen to reflect the whole working week, including out of hours. Information was gathered from multiple stakeholders, including ED clinical staff, porters, microbiology laboratory staff and clinicians. BCs were trailed from when the sample was taken until results were reported. The time taken for each stage was compared against national standards (SMIB37).


107 BCs were included in the study. Only 23% achieved the 4hr target between collection and incubation; times ranged from 50 mins–27hrs8mins. None of 43 samples taken at the weekend achieved the target. Process mapping allowed the following problems to be identified: fixed, infrequent transport by porters; delays between the general laboratory and the microbiology receptions; and delay in loading the analyser. BC bottles could not be transported via the vacuum system and the analyser was only accessible when the microbiology laboratory was open, which is not 24/7.


The BC pathway at the hospital fails to ensure that national standards are met. Identifying key bottlenecks impeding flow will help enable the trust to make essential changes.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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