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The page below is a sample from the LabCE course Bone Marrow Aspiration: Normal Hematopoiesis and Basic Interpretive Procedures. Access the complete course and earn ASCLS P.A.C.E.-approved continuing education credits by subscribing online.

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Rules for Bone Marrow Differentials, continued

Bone marrow smears can be very cellular and it can be difficult to keep track of where you are on the smear while keeping your correct hand position on the keyboard . Having a good strategy to use when counting cells and performing differentials can make this less difficult.
On peripheral blood differentials, it is easy to observe and count each cell individually as the stage is moved to bring the next field into view. However, with bone marrows, the total number of keys that need to be used on the differential counter is greater than the number that need to be used with a peripheral blood smear and the number of cells per field is also increased dramatically, making it easy to lose track of the cells on the smear or one's hand/keyboard placement.

It can be simpler and less stressful to work on the quadrant system. There are two different ways to do this:
  1. Divide the field into quadrants. Count the individual cells in each quadrant separately. This decreases the number of cells into more manageable bites. However, you still have the increased number of cell types to deal with and possible keyboard frame-shifts.
  2. Divide your keyboard into quadrants. Search your field for a limited number of cell types and tally all you see before moving on to the next grouping of cell types. Once you tally all your groups then move on to the next field (e.g., lymphocytes, monocytes, macrophages, eosinophils, basophils, plasma cells, erythroids, segmented neutrophils, bands, etc). You can make these small groupings for any cells as long as you cover the entire list of cell types that your laboratory reports in its bone marrow differential protocol. Remember that blasts are identified by cell type and there will usually be a separate key for pronormoblasts, myeloblasts, lymphoblasts, and possibly monoblasts and plasmablasts. Depending on the laboratory's protocol, promyelocytes, myelocytes and metamyelocytes may be quantified together. All erythroid precursors may also be reported together. Eosinophil and precursors & basophils and precursors may also be reporting categories. Because of the variations in methods of cell type reporting in bone marrow differentials, it's paramount to refer to your laboratory's reporting procedure.
It is possible to combine both methods, using the keyboard quadrant technique with a restricted portion of the total microscope field. This is useful when you are getting close to your total tally and do not want to alter the balance by only counting one cell type for the last few cells.