Medical Couriers: The Scapegoat for Lost & Missing Specimens?

Lost Specimen Blame GameIn 2005 MCE was developed to simply track outreach medical specimens between the clinician’s office and the medical laboratory. A single lab needed to provide digital proof that their couriers were not responsible for missing specimens. Since then, MCE has learned that medical couriers across the nation are often the first to be blamed for a missing specimen. While sometimes it’s justifiable, sometimes it’s not. Unless there is evidence to prove a courier did or did not obtain ownership of a specimen and successfully delivered it to the lab, couriers can very easily become a scapegoat, oftentimes unintentionally, to avoid accountability for human error.

Having recorded evidence of courier workflows is essential for justifying or disproving accusations and more importantly finding specimens. If a patient sample has ever gone missing, you understand the concern, the time, the cost, the headache, and the desire to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again. The good news is that having a lost or missing specimen conversation between couriers, lab staff, and your customers is avoidable. In today’s blog we’ll discuss:

  1. Specimen Ownership & Accountability
  2. Why Specimens Go Missing
  3. Different Options for Tracking Specimens
  4. How Utilizing MCE Courier Software Creates Accountability & Saves You Money.

Specimen Ownership & Accountability

The first step in tracking specimens is to determine who has ownership of a sample and therefore who is accountable for it. Once a sample has been collected by the clinician’s office, they have ownership of that sample until it has been picked-up by the lab courier. At that point your lab takes control and should know the who, what, where, and when about ownership of that sample. Keeping track of this information with barcodes and digital records is the is the safest way to prove who is in possession of a sample to prevent specimen loss.

Many labs utilizing MCE have easily been able to prove that either 1.) they were never in possession of the specimen (it was still at the clinic) or 2.) the lab was in possession and they could verify in real time who had possession of it based on the day/time/location of the last time it was recorded in the system.  Simply proving the digital chain of custody of a sample saves time/ money, prevents headaches/potential litigation claims, and improves patient safety and customer satisfaction.

Other important factors for recording ownership of specimens:

Patient Safety: Patient specimens are needed for critical for diagnostic and treatment purposes. Ensuring the integrity and proper handling of these samples is essential to safeguarding patient safety and well-being. By clearly defining ownership over specimens, laboratories can establish accountability and responsibility for their safe transportation and processing.

Regulatory Compliance: Healthcare facilities and laboratories are subject to stringent regulatory requirements governing the handling, storage, and transportation of patient specimens. Clarifying ownership helps institutions adhere to regulatory standards by outlining the specific roles and responsibilities of each party involved in the specimen transfer process. This not only mitigates the risk of regulatory violations but also promotes adherence to best practices in specimen management.

Quality Assurance: Maintaining the quality and integrity of specimens is paramount for accurate diagnostic testing and research outcomes. Specimen ownership facilitates quality assurance measures by delineating accountability for proper handling, storage, and documentation throughout the specimen lifecycle. With clear ownership guidelines in place, laboratories can implement robust quality control protocols to minimize the risk of specimen mishandling.

Why Specimens Go Missing

Next to ownership, understanding why specimens go missing is important in order to create effective system features. From the wildest stories, “a squirl ran off with it”, to the more common “it fell under the car seat” or “it was still in the nurses scrub pocket”, we know a thing or two about missing specimens because we’ve heard a thing or two about missing specimens. While MCE can’t prevent missing specimens when it’s still in possession of the clinic, we can help provide accountability during lab courier possession and prevent the most common blunders that are caused by human error.  

The most common reasons specimens are lost by couriers:
  • Sample fell under car seat
  • Sample fell out cooler when it was dropped
  • Sample ownerships wasn’t recorded at transfer/hub
  • Sample was dropped off at the wrong lab/location
  • Sample wasn’t recorded as dropped-off at lab
  • Courier intentionally did not follow protocol or was malicious

Understanding the nuances of human behavior, clumsiness, human oversight, distractions, and the fact that sometimes people don’t always remember or want to follow protocol, has provided MCE with enough insight to create system features that combat these types of unintentional issue and prompts couriers to follow proper procedures to ensure specimens are tracked and easily found in real time. A web demo of MCE is highly recommended to understand how these features work.

Different Options for Tracking Outreach Specimens

Historically, many labs relied on paper logs to keep track of specimen ownership. While this method may seem straightforward, it is prone to errors such as illegible handwriting, misplaced logs, or incomplete entries. Moreover, paper logs offer limited accessibility and lack real-time updates, making it challenging to maintain accurate records, especially in high-volume settings. While paper-logs are still used by many labs, they don’t provide protection for your couriers or patients to justify accusations regarding specimen ownership or location.

Tracking Outreach Specimens Using Barcodes

 Barcoding technology offers a more sophisticated approach to specimen tracking. By assigning unique barcodes to specimen bags or patient requisitions, laboratories can accurately identify, record, and monitor specimens throughout their journey. This method significantly reduces the risk of errors associated with manual data entry and streamlines the tracking process.

With MCE, barcoding and digital recording is used to provide proof of ownership by couriers and tracks:

  • Courier Name
  • Site arrival/departure date/time
  • Specimen type
  • Specimen count
  • Specimen pickup date/time/location
  • Specimen transfer date/time/location
  • Specimen lab drop-off date/time/location
  • Points of geographic location of couriers while in possession of samples.

Within barcode tracking in MCE, there are several approaches that offer varying levels of traceability for specimens. What works best for your lab depends on your operational workflow and what level of accountability you want to provide.  Here are a few different approaches some labs take:

Tracking each individual specimen bag: This approach is highly recommended by MCE and involves assigning a unique barcode to each individual specimen bag or patient requisition. This allows for precise identification and tracking. While this level of granularity offers maximum visibility and accountability, it may require additional resources and infrastructure to manage effectively.

Tracking only irreplaceable specimens: For labs handling a large volume of specimens, tracking every single sample individually may be impractical. Instead, focusing on tracking irreplaceable or high-priority specimens ensures that critical samples receive the necessary attention and monitoring.

Tracking specimens in bulk containers: In some cases, specimens are transported in bulk containers. Implementing barcode tracking at the container level allows for efficient management of multiple samples within a single unit. This approach strikes a balance between granularity and practicality, optimizing workflow efficiency while maintaining traceability.

Tracking specimen counts only: While MCE does not recommend this option, transitioning to electronic tracking systems addresses some of the limitations of paper logs. Electronic systems allow for faster data entry, automated record-keeping, and improved accuracy. However, tracking specimen counts alone may not provide sufficient detail for comprehensive specimen management. Without individual specimen identification, it can be difficult to trace specific samples in case of discrepancies or errors.

Choosing the most suitable tracking method depends on factors such as the volume of specimens processed, operational requirements, and budget considerations. MCE Courier Software offers customizable tracking solutions tailored to the unique needs of each laboratory, ensuring efficient specimen management while minimizing costs.

How Utilizing MCE Courier Software Prevents the Cost of Missing Specimens

Utilizing MCE Courier Software offers a range of cost-saving benefits for laboratories and healthcare facilities, contributing to operational efficiency, resource optimization, and overall financial savings. Furthermore, MCE empowers medical couriers with the tools and features necessary to uphold accountability and traceability at every stage of the specimen transportation process and reduces costs associated with missing specimens. Here are a few features:

Digital Chain of Custody: MCE’s digital platform enables the seamless tracking of specimens from collection to delivery, providing a comprehensive chain of custody record for each sample. Medical couriers can digitally capture key data points, including collection time, location, and recipient information, ensuring accountability and transparency throughout the specimen’s journey.

Real-time Updates: With MCE’s real-time tracking capabilities, couriers can provide instant updates on specimen status and location, allowing laboratories and healthcare providers to monitor the progress of each sample in transit. By maintaining continuous communication and visibility, MCE fosters accountability by enabling stakeholders to promptly address any issues or discrepancies that may arise during transportation.

Barcode Scanning: MCE integrates barcode scanning technology to accurately identify and verify specimens at various checkpoints along the delivery route. By scanning barcodes attached to each sample, reducing the risk of errors or misplacements. This systematic approach enhances accountability by ensuring that specimens are securely always tracked and accounted for.

Automated Reporting: MCE’s reporting features generate comprehensive documentation of specimen movements, including timestamps, locations, and chain of custody details. By automating reporting processes, MCE minimizes the potential for manual errors or omissions, providing reliable documentation to support accountability and compliance efforts. Laboratories and healthcare facilities can easily access and review these reports to verify specimen handling procedures and address any issues proactively.

Look at the cost for missing specimens: In a study conducted by Northwell Health and the Hofstra North Shore – LIJ School of Medicine, it was reported that lost specimens, including those that were eventually located, consumed about 15 additional labor hours and had a direct cost of almost $500 per event ( . With MCE, costs like these are avoidable. MCE offers advanced tracking and accountability features so medical couriers can fulfill their responsibilities with confidence, knowing that each specimen is handled securely and in accordance with established protocols. This commitment to accountability not only enhances patient safety and regulatory compliance but also reinforces trust and confidence in the specimen transportation process. Contact MCE today to schedule a web demo of our system.


Let Us Know How We Can Help

Thanks for your interest in Medical Courier Elite! If you're interested in learning more about our solution and how it can help your business, we'd be happy to schedule a demo, provide a quote or answer any questions you may have.

181 East Evans St. | Florence, SC, 29506
Phone: 843-656-2084 or 877-331-7427