Vol. 19 Issue 20
Specimen management systems alleviate shipping problems.
Problems arise in maintaining compliance with transport regulations, as well as in tracking specimens throughout their journey. Solutions such as electronic specimen management systems and training programs are available to help laboratorians perform the necessary tasks effectively and efficiently.
"Managing human interactions with the specimen transport process is a much more complicated task [than the physical challenges] but holds the greatest potential for improvement," asserted Dennis Cheng, president, Cerebros Medical Systems.
"The majority of labs we work with do not have problems with losing specimens," explained Angela Branton, Medical Courier Elite product manager, Taylor Data Systems, "but they lose time looking for specimens clients claim have been sent to the lab."
With tracking systems, if a client calls looking for a specimen, the lab can -immediately determine when and where it was picked up and delivered.
This allows the lab to deal with any outstanding issues in real time, said Katharen LeSavoy, PBT(ASCP), Phlebotomy and Processing supervisor, Elliot Hospital Laboratory, Manchester, NH, who uses tube.tracker from Cerebros Medical Systems. At each courier run, the lab can validate all expected specimens were received, adding transparency and accountability to the process.
Courier and route management can be major headaches for laboratorians, Branton added. "Having to shuffle hundreds of pickups can be time consuming, and the optimal route may not be being used," she noted. Medical Courier Elite provides route optimization to recommend the best sequence, using mapping intelligence. What's more, "having concrete proof of what your couriers have been doing throughout the day ensures productivity," Branton said.
Specimen management systems help eliminate or manage many transport problems. Cheng listed the benefits these systems offer:
identification of the specimens to be transported;
generation of appropriate shipping manifests and transport documentation;
ascertaining a specimen's location at any given time;
verification of the receipt of specimens at the destination;
identification of any damaged, missing or additional specimens;
means to track and manage problematic specimens; and
tracking and problem reporting, including statistics to feed back into process improvement.
A Natural Pair
Bar codes go hand-in-hand with specimen management systems to ensure patient privacy, accuracy and efficiency. "By employing barcode technology, identification errors can be nearly eliminated and speed of data acquisition increased to the point so that it has negligible effect on productivity," Cheng stated.
"Tracking specimens through the use of bar codes allows laboratorians to do so quickly without compromising patient privacy. In addition, if a client is looking for a specimen, instead of searching through piles of specimens looking for a patient's name, a tracking number can provide an answer in seconds," Branton added.
Handling specimens is an area subject to regulations from various agencies, including International Civil Aviation Organization, International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
"To ship legally, these agencies and organizations require recurrent training on the regulations that govern these shipments," explained Bill MacFie, product manager, Saf-T-Pak. "If these regulations are not adhered to, there can be both civil and criminal penalties for the employer and/or employee, depending on the infractions.
"The primary regulatory changes over the last year have been in the harmonization of regulations put forth by the DOT and IATA, and to a lesser extent, the U.S. Postal Service," MacFie reported. "This has included the consistent use of the terms 'Category A, Infectious Substances' for the highest level risks and 'Biological Substance, Category B' for pathogens of lesser risk or in non-cultured concentration."
"Some of the regulatory terms and specific product identifications were inconsistent," added Tom Vlasic, sales manager, Saf-T-Pak. "One of the most important things is to have consistency of terms to identify and classify infectious substances offered for shipment so the chance of errors and potential delays is minimized."
Initial training must take place upon hire, followed by a minimum baseline training every 2 years, per IATA, Vlasic explained. The difficulty lies in the fact changes are made within the calendar year, and facilities must remain compliant with these changes–but help is available for that as well; for example, Saf-T-Pak offers e-mail updates when amendments are made.
While specimen transport can easily become an overwhelming part of life in the lab, making proper use of the tools available can make a difference in the workflow of laboratorians and, ultimately, patient care.
Kelly J. Graham is an assistant editor at ADVANCE.