4 Options Lab Couriers Use to Track Outreach Patient Specimens Electronically

While some outreach medical laboratories still use antiquated pen and paper systems for tracking patient specimens, for years many lab professionals have updated their courier service offerings to include electronic barcode tracking systems which help ensure specimens don’t go missing.  However, labs and their courier services are very diverse in the way they operate and what works for tracking in one lab may not be the most efficient way to track in another. If your lab is considering tracking outreach specimens electronically you should understand the different barcode and non-barcode options available to determine the best fit for your lab operations.

Tracking With or Without Barcodes – Which Option is Best for Your Lab?

First let’s discuss what barcodes are and how they benefit outreach lab operations.

Barcodes are a sequence of vertical bars and spaces that represent numbers and other symbols in a machine-readable form. They are attached to products or materials as a means of quick and error-free identification and are read by scanners. For specimen tracking, scanning barcodes is a great way to ensure who is in possession of a patient sample without collecting sensitive patient health information.

In our experience working with lab courier services across the United States, determining if you should implement barcodes as a tracking option for outreach specimens depends on:

  • specific issues you are trying to address in your lab,
  • the level of service you want to provide customers,
  • and which option fits best into your operations model.

Labs utilizing MCE have implemented a mix of options when it comes to tracking outreach specimens. While the majority of labs utilize some form of barcode tracking, some do not.  With that in mind, here are some operational selections to consider for tracking outreach specimens:

  1. Barcoding and scanning every specimen – This offers the most accountability to ensure specimens don’t go missing. If missing specimens is a regular problem or if you want to provide the highest level of customer service, you should without a doubt consider this option.
  2. Barcoding and scanning irreplaceable specimens only – Some labs have such high volumes they can’t scan every specimen without losing efficiency. However, they do want to ensure accountability for specimens that are irreplaceable. For those cases they will require a barcode association for tracking. As irreplaceable specimens carry a higher liability, this option still provides a level of safety to your most vulnerable patients.
  3. Barcoding and scanning batches – Many labs pickup specimens that are batched into a bulk container. In this scenario the bulk container is barcoded, and all specimens contained within are associated with it. This helps couriers to be more efficient with large specimen volumes while still providing some traceability of individual specimens.
  4. Recording specimens without barcodes – For various reasons, some labs only want to record the number of specimens picked-up at each location without associating them with barcodes. In this scenario the courier would manually enter the number of specimens picked up at each location. However, accountability for specimen location and ownership is significantly reduced, and anything done manually opens the door for human error.

When considering how to best track outreach specimens electronically, it is important to note that these are not all-or-none preferences. Some labs implement a mixture of these possibilities into their operations depending on lab or customer needs. The important thing is to find a system that works for your operations so your lab can be more efficient, provide exceptional customer service, and improve patient safety. That means the tracking system you use should offer some flexibility to meet your specific operational needs and not constrain you to a “one-size-fits-all” box.

Outreach Barcoding Options

If your medical lab has determined that implementing a barcode system is the right fit for your operations, it is important to understand what your options are.

Printed Barcodes on Patient Requisitions

Many laboratory information systems (LIS) now offer physician offices the ability enter lab orders online and then print barcoded requisitions to travel in route with patient specimens. The biggest benefit of having an LIS system that offers online order creation with associated barcode requisitions is that it is a very efficient process for the lab and customer, and the barcode identifiers can be reconciled with your tracking system using an application programing interface (API).

If you aren’t sure if your LIS has this capability, it’s something lab directors and system administrators should investigate. Most LIS systems offer this as a feature, but many lab directors and IT administrators often are not aware. However, if you’ve done your research and realize that this still isn’t an option for your lab, there are other barcode choices available.

Preprinted Barcodes on Hazmat Bags

When barcoded requisition forms aren’t available, another great solution is to utilize hazmat bags with preprinted barcodes. Many hazmat bag suppliers today have the capability to customize bags with your company logo, unique barcode identifiers, and other options as well.  Barcoded hazmat bags are an easy to implement solution for both the lab and physician office staff.

Printed Barcodes on Adhesive Labels

Adhesive barcode labels require someone to manually place labels on the patient requisition, hazmat bag, and/or the patient log sheet. This system can be more laborious for either the customer or courier depending on how you want to implement, but it does offer more flexibility in where barcodes are placed.

If you do implement a barcode tracking system into your outreach courier operations, you should also consider using enterprise grade mobile computers like the Honeywell CT40. These devices come with the same capabilities as smart phones; however, they have built-in scanners that capture barcode data much quicker than a smartphone camera. They are also designed specifically for heavy work use and wear and tear such as in courier operations. Furthermore, these scanners can read most any type of barcode that you want to track. So, if the samples themselves carry barcodes you could scan those as well.

Download this printable PDF to learn more about barcoding options to track specimens in MCE: MCE-Labels-and-Barcoded-Bags-Brochure.

Take the Next Step to Track Outreach Specimens

If your outreach medical laboratory is interested in tracking patient specimens electronically with or without barcodes and want to improve your courier operations through optimized routing, dispatching, and accountability then contact MCE for a personalized web demo followed by a quote. Complete a request here



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