Ways to reduce medical errors associated with specimen labs

Up to 70 percent of the errors associated with lab results occur before the test has even been analysed, according to a report by the ECRI (Emergency Care Research Institute). Getting a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis, especially for what could be a life-threatening condition, can cause significant emotional distress for patients. Here are some steps that can be taken to mitigate the risks:

Applying a bar code identification system

To assist in the prevention of errors with patient identification and specimen labelling, it is recommended that a bar code identification system be implemented. One of the hospitals to set up this system has been using the process of collecting blood tests for inpatients using patient wristband bar-codes, mobile devices to download orders, barcode scanners to identity the patient before blood tests take place and portable printers for printing off labels right at the patient’s bed. A study on the new system found that a higher percentage of patients reported their bracelets being inspected prior to phlebotomy resulting in a reduction in the number of misidentifications of specimens.

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Provide automatic transmission of reports by computer, pager or other electronic formats

Having a mobile device to make it easier to identify patients, note the samples that are being taken by staff and the transmission of laboratory results to the relevant doctor or physician can make a significant difference.

Learning from the mistakes and near misses

It’s important to identify the source of the problem. Is it human error or equipment error? Whether it’s a mix-up of samples or just a matter of not getting enough of the sample? Is that a quality control failure? Or it was a mistake caused by a breakdown in communication?

Establish a clear format for reporting the results. Often, a simple solution is clear or ignored. Health facilities must enforce concrete protocols for specimen and patient identification to prevent errors. This could be achieved by using two identifiers for patient or specimen labelling in front of the patient.

Whenever a lab relocation is scheduled to take place, it’s also crucial that clear procedures are established for the safe movement of equipment and specimens. For Lab Relocation Services, find out more information at Aport Global lab relocation services

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Set a facility-wide protocol

This can be achieved by providing a more stringent definition of criteria for important results, providing a time frame for reporting the results and mapping the process to inform the ordering doctor when the results are ready. Laboratory directors tend to focus on what is happening in their laboratories, but they also have to work to establish liaison with staff to improve communications across service providers. If the specimen is not properly labelled, laboratories must reject them, but they also must provide feedback so that the reasons behind the rejections are made clear.