Combating inaccuracy and inefficiency in the lab

Sept. 22, 2016

Tips for using logistics to avoid quality control issues.

Diagnostic errors account for the most profound patient harm and largest fraction of malpractice claims, according to a 25-year review1 of malpractice payouts by Johns Hopkins Medicine. This places labs at the forefront of patient safety issues, even above prescription drug overdoses and surgical mistakes.

Recent news surrounding clinical lab testing and inaccurate results has called attention to broader issues within the industry. As budgets get tighter and labs look for ways to cut costs, they must consider the danger this can pose to service to the client and, ultimately, patient care.

Avoiding serious testing issues isn’t just an in-lab issue. It starts with effective pre-analytical processes—including specimen collection, transport, and receipt into labs.

Collecting the specimen

Sample collection kicks off a long chain of events. Once the sample is collected, to ensure its integrity, the specimen must be properly packed, labeled, and accounted for before it leaves the medical facility and starts its journey to the lab.

The right packing and transport supplies protect samples during their transport and help ensure the integrity of the sample. The integrity of the sample can be impacted by such things as light, vibration, spillage, temperature, and, obviously, breakage. As such, packaging should be properly tested and validated.

Proper labeling of samples and packaging is critical to ensure proper identification of the patient and safety of the handler. Patient samples should include two patient identifiers. A well designed patient label can help ensure proper identification and handling, which will help reduce the amount of specimen recollects. Labeling of transport containers is also critical to the safe handling of samples for couriers and carriers. Ultimately, the labeling of transport materials is the shipper’s responsibility, but providing the proper packaging and labels can set them up for success.

Tracking the specimen

A lot can go wrong between the time a sample leaves its original location and when it arrives at the clinical lab. Improper handling, lost or mixed up samples, and delayed delivery times plague clinical lab directors, but as new technology becomes available, which can enable improved tracking, these issues are more avoidable.

Breakdowns in courier and carrier services are a top reason why clients switch from one lab to a competitor. With this in mind, lab decision makers need to make sure their logistics providers and processes are using technology to its full advantage—managing their networks with precision and efficiency.

This is where data from technology such as GPS tracking, real-time updates, and temperature monitoring can greatly improve the overall success of the specimen transport. With the right technology, courier drivers can alter their routes because of weather or traffic issues, and can easily access instructions for which stops to make and what to do at each lab. Labs have access to status updates and real-time tracking information so they can appropriately plan for the arrival of specimens.

The ability to track samples through carriers has previously been somewhat limited to location. Enhanced technology and a focus on healthcare has improved tracking visibility, temperature monitoring, and the ability to intercept when temperature or delivery times are not being met.

Testing the specimen

Once samples have arrived at the testing facility, they still have numerous steps to go through before accurate test results can be provided. The initial processing of samples is critical to ensuring a fast turnaround time and accurate results. Utilizing an efficient reconciling process to ensure all samples in transport have arrived will prevent delays in testing and reporting.

The ability to reconcile samples quickly and accurately has improved with better visibility of data, integrations with logistics providers, RFID technology, and most important, labs’ commitment to tracking from the point of shipment.

Logistics is not just for getting a sample to the lab. Tracking of samples within the lab through the process of testing and storage has also been greatly improved through enhancements in LIS systems and the recent affordability of RFID technology. The ability to track the sample in process can provide improved service and reliability for clients. Lab directors implement efficient inventory and specimen receipt procedures that allow their teams to take the correct next steps for each specimen.

Beyond this, screening for integrity issues before testing the specimens reduces costs and decreases the likelihood of incorrect diagnoses. For example, new technology can track aspects of quality control such as temperature variability throughout the collection and transport of sensitive specimens, then provide a quick view for lab personnel into whether it stayed within the acceptable range.

Specimen integrity matters

Specimen integrity insight saves labs from wasted resources on unviable tests, both money and time. If laboratorians find out that a sample can’t provide accurate results before going through the testing process, they can alert clients sooner to get a replacement sample, and help reduce delayed test results.

Each specimen is attached to a patient, and inefficiencies and inaccuracies in the lab negatively impact real people. They also hurt client relationships and, ultimately, labs’ bottom lines. By using advances in collection and logistics management technology to their advantage, labs can ensure financial success while optimizing the client and patient experience.


  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Diagnostic errors more common, costly and harmful than treatment mistakes.

Kevin Boykin, MT, MBA, serves as CEO of Path-Tec, a provider of specimen management solutions. He holds degrees from Columbus State University and Auburn University.