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Pathologists’ slide storage: ice age technology comes to the rescue
  1. R Awasthi,
  2. A Sherwood,
  3. S Blunden,
  4. H Blakely,
  5. M E F Smith
  1. Department of Histopathology, Derriford Hospital, Derriford Road, Plymouth PL6 8DH, UK;

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Piles of glass slides (fig 1) from cases pending, strewn untidily across a pathologist’s desk, adjacent to his or her microscope, is a far from uncommon sight. As one pile collapses inevitably into another, slides from different cases become increasingly jumbled, and the quick identification of the slides becomes ever more difficult. And while the pathologist eagerly awaits the arrival of the requested levels, special stains, or sections from further blocks, yet more slides (from new cases pending) invariably accumulate. We decided to investigate how common this scenario is and what could be done to improve it.

Figure 1

 Scattered slides on the desk.

We prepared a simple questionnaire and invited our histopathologist colleagues in Plymouth, Exeter, and Truro, UK, to tell us how they coped with the problem of storing slides from cases pending and, if they were experiencing problems, whether they could think of any solutions. We received responses from 15 consultant pathologists and five registrars.

The average number of pending cases was five for each person (range, 1-10). The average number of pending slides was 39 for each person (range, 2-80). The preferred choice of storage (12 pathologists) was to retain the slides with the request form in a slide tray, whereas seven preferred to pile the slides on the desk or in a drawer. One pathologist sent the slides back to the lab along with the request form for extra work. Four pathologists maintained no paper record of their cases pending and as a consequence tended to loose track of them. Most pathologists kept track and were reminded of their pending cases by the sight of the retained slides and request forms.

Four pathologists were very satisfied by their chosen method of slide storage and found slide retrieval always easy (two of these used slide trays and two piled their slides on the desk). Fourteen pathologists admitted to encountering some problem but usually found slide retrieval easy. Two pathologists found slide retrieval always difficult and one of them was seriously looking for a better option for slide storage.

We suggest that an effective solution to the problem of storing slides from pending cases is to use a plastic tray with multiple deep wells, each well capable of storing multiple slides (up to 12 slides) of a single case. The slides would be naturally inclined at an angle of 45 degrees, thus allowing the easy viewing of their labels from the vantage of the microscope. If request forms were to be retained, they could be stored under the tray.

An ideal design for just such a slide tray has in fact been available for many years, typically incorporating 18 separate wells, and thereby accommodating the slides from 18 cases: the almost ubiquitous ice cube tray (fig 2). Such a tray has been used for several months now by one of us to great effect.

Figure 2

 Well organised slides in an ice cube tray.