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How Tolerant is Your Lab of Lost Specimens?

Sometimes it’s hard to admit when you’ve got a problem. For instance, there are many outreach labs that regularly lose specimens and consider it a normal by-product of their business. It’s not that they want to lose specimens, but in the hectic day-to-day of business, it somehow just becomes acceptable. Sadly, apathy towards any problem typically breeds a culture of tolerance which, with time, inevitably turns into a major issue. When a specimen can’t be replaced, and a customer’s trust is irreversibly broken the damage of tolerance has already been made, often to the detriment of a patient.

It’s a story we hear from laboratories frequently, so it’s not as uncommon as you think. Google “lost lab specimen” and you’ll get pages of articles on the subject, legal advice, and recommended solutions for the problem.  A study from the University of Minnesota Medical Center laboratory found their facility could not account for about 6 to 7 specimens per week.(https://www.medlabmag.com/article/1591) That’s nearly 30 specimens a month!Lost Lab Specimens

Considering lab results play a major role in critical medical decisions, why are so many labs apathetic when a specimen is lost? Many think a specimen can just be redrawn, or that the physician may not really need the result. But lost specimens are more than just an inconvenience to a patient or physician, they are costly. The cost of a positive lost sample that causes a delay in treatment or mortality could be substantial to say the least. But in general, based on one study, the average cost due to a single irretrievable lost specimen was $548, and cumulative errors over a three-month period increased this value to $20,430. ( https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/868957  ) In contrast, a retrievable lost specimen incurred a cost of $401.25 per event, with a three-month cumulative value of $14,836.  Can your lab really afford to be apathetic to lost specimens?

Lab systems are complex, and with specimen handoffs between multiple people in the pre-analytic stage of collection, the chances of specimen loss increase. At MCE we often hear that missing or lost specimens becomes a he-said/she-said blame game between the laboratory and the physician office. And receiving a client phone call asking for lab results when the lab can’t even verify it was received can turn into a nightmare.

Mitigating the risk of a lost or misplaced specimen should be a priority of all labs. Sometimes it takes a lab director stepping up and taking the initiative to look inward. It’s not always easy or pretty, but it’s worth it for patient safety and a lab that runs efficiently.

Labs like the University of Minnesota Medical Center found web-based tracking to be one of many solutions to mitigate lost specimens. (https://www.medlabmag.com/article/1591) Based on input from labs nationwide, MCE was designed specifically for laboratory specimen reconciliation and courier management. As a cloud-based system, MCE utilizes barcoded specimens to alert couriers to a missing sample upon specimen drop-off and will not allow them to exit the system until the sample is found. This is a pro-active approach to the dreaded customer phone call asking for results you don’t have. MCE also gives labs the ability to require client signatures at courier pick-up to avoid the he-said/she-said blame game.  Furthermore, through MCE, courier routing and tracking can be managed on-line. Assigning pick-up/drop off times for couriers is an efficient way to manage traffic in and out of the lab to further reducing the risk of lost specimens.

Every specimen represents a physical part of a patient, and every specimen lost is a lost opportunity to provide the best care a patient deserves. Take the time to evaluate your labs tolerance of missing specimens, and if a system like MCE could help improve patient safety.

 

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