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Specimen integrity must be established, safeguarded, and improved to ensure patients receive the best possible care.

Ensuring Specimen Integrity Is Everyone’s Job

Delivering high-quality patient care heavily relies on eliminating medical errors and maintaining specimen integrity

Photo portrait of Emily Berlin
Emily Berlin, BS, MBA
Photo portrait of Emily Berlin

Emily Berlin, BS, MBA, is VP of laboratory marketing & AeroMed commercial sales and operations at Cardinal Health.

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Published:Oct 05, 2023
|2 min read
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Photo portrait of Emily Berlin
Emily Berlin, BS, MBA, is VP of laboratory marketing & Aero-Med commercial sales and operations at Cardinal Health.

For the US healthcare system, the financial cost of diagnostic errors is steep. Approximately 14 billion lab tests are ordered annually every year, and an estimated $750 billion is wasted in unnecessary services and inefficiencies, a portion of which may be attributable to diagnostic errors and delays in treatment. Diagnostic errors occur due to improper technique, misidentification, labeling errors, improper storage and transport conditions, quality issues, and more, leading to delays in treatment, misdiagnoses, and in worst-case scenarios, harm to patients.

The true cost of these errors to patients and their families is unquantifiable—such as a patient who was misdiagnosed due to a labeling error, or a patient whose critical treatment was delayed because a tissue biopsy went missing. Stories of serious incidents such as these make the news each year and are often the only time that diagnostic errors are given national attention.

Medical errors: A leading cause of death in the US

Recent estimates suggest that diagnostic errors affect more than 12 million people in the US each year and may account for approximately 64,000 preventable deaths each year. While not every diagnostic error leads to a life-changing consequence, each has the potential to cause harm. With so much at stake, how can hospitals and healthcare organizations reduce errors to support effective patient care?

To help ensure that patients receive the best possible care, specimen integrity—the necessary conditions required to keep a specimen from being compromised—must be established, safeguarded, and improved. Doing so requires that everyone involved in the diagnostic workflow focuses on reducing errors. This requires a comprehensive approach for maintaining appropriate processes, products, systems, and above all, a culture of safety.

Reducing variability and human error

Laboratory testing is powered by skilled personnel. Many test results cannot be delivered without medical lab professionals, nurses, clinicians, phlebotomists, and other healthcare professionals collecting, transporting, and testing specimens. As such, a certain degree of human error is inevitable, and therefore, using products, systems, and processes that reduce or eliminate human error from the equation becomes necessary to enhance specimen integrity.

Specimen integrity initiatives extend beyond organizational walls. For example, the Clinical Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI) recently established a new goal of 1 percent blood culture contamination as part of best practices. As the current benchmark is set at <3 percent, this new standard represents a significant reduction in errors, as well as potential savings for facilities that are able to restrict contamination rates to 1 percent.

Products specifically designed to reduce contamination can help in this regard. Standardized collection kits can also improve specimen integrity by minimizing variability during the specimen collection, transport, and handling process.

How distributors can drive specimen integrity

The onus of specimen integrity falls on everyone involved in health care, including manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors of diagnostic products. Specifically, healthcare distributors are positioned to facilitate collaboration between clinical and supply chain teams. As intermediaries between manufacturers and healthcare facilities, distributors’ unique vantage point allows them to identify pitfalls and roadblocks along the specimen collection workflow.

Distributors can help drive specimen integrity initiatives in healthcare organizations by standardizing and sourcing high-quality specimen collection and transport products specially designed to maintain specimen integrity through the workflow and reduce fragmentation to strengthen supply chains. Collaborating to ensure specimen integrity is more critical than ever—because patients are counting on it.