Reducing Laboratory Errors
Lab testing forms the basis for many aspects of diagnosis and treatment. This means that test-related errors can have serious repercussions.
A study from ECRI Patient Safety Organization found that the majority of errors related to lab testing took place outside the laboratory itself. Common errors included:
- Mislabeled specimens
- Specimens with an incomplete or missing label
- Missing or delayed results
- Wrong tests ordered
- Misinterpretation of results
ECRI Institute PSO listed the different people who bear the responsibility for the accuracy of the testing process, including:
- The health care professional who orders the lab test and makes decisions based on the findings.
- The person who collects the specimen to be tested.
- The transporter who delivers the specimen to the lab.
- The lab technician who processes the test order and records the test results.
- The person who makes the test results available to the health care team that initially ordered the testing.
It’s easy to see how important it is for all of these people to do their jobs effectively to ensure the integrity, accuracy and availability of the test results. An article for Modern Healthcare suggests that teamwork is the key. The author recommends increased communication between clinicians and health care professionals to help reduce errors and establish protocols and processes that help eliminate mistakes.
A MEDCITY News article analyzing the same study offered five strategies for implementing the study recommendations, including:
- Using bar-code identification for patients and specimens.
- Automatic digital transmission of reports.
- Error-reporting protocols to analyze mistakes and near misses.
- Standardizing results reporting and identification protocols.
- Creating facility-wide protocols for team communication, including setting reporting time frames, establishing testing priorities and outlining notification processes to report results.
As an individual, you can contribute to reducing laboratory errors by carefully following the established protocols of your employer, making sure to ask questions when there’s any doubt about the identity of a patient or specimen, and helping to facilitate the movement of information between your office and the lab. Just slowing down and taking extra care can make all the difference.