Sample misidentification can lead to many adverse consequences, such as misdiagnosis, unnecessary tests and incorrect treatment. When such errors do occur, it not only compromises patient care, it also has financial implications for healthcare facilities. According to a study by the Healthcare Information Management Society, there is a significant financial impact with sample errors leading to redraws, retesting and additional treatment, costing hospitals an estimated $200 to $400 million annually. By accurately labeling specimens throughout the entire process, hospitals can avoid a leading source of medical errors and improve patient safety.
Knowing that the smallest mistakes due to human error in labeling have ripple effects for patient care, administrators at Karolinska University Hospital in Scandinavia, wanted to ensure that its multi-facility testing process for blood, plasma and tissue was as efficient and accurate as possible, eradicating any risk of mistakes and ensuring greater patient security.
No Mistake Too Small
Karolinska, one of Europe's largest hospitals, decided to integrate barcode technology into laboratory sampling for blood, plasma and tissue testing to accommodate the 3,800 patients, 250 procedures and 1,600 hospital beds the hospital is responsible for on a daily basis. Moreover, Karolinska wanted to guarantee the accuracy of labels for the 10,000 test tubes from various departments that needed to be sent for analysis.
Before implementation, Karolinska technicians printed laboratory orders from a regular laser printer that required an entire sheet just to print a single label. Not only was this process an unnecessary waste of resources, but there was no system in place for printed labels to be logged into the hospital's LIS, resulting in mistakes. Karolinska administrators knew they needed to improve the handling of specimens sent to laboratories to rid the hospital of even a small error that could have enormous consequences.
Implementing a Change
To increase operational efficiency and improve patient care, Karolinska Hospital implemented a more effective way to track specimens throughout the entire process. Taking into consideration the need for an overall cost effective and safe solution, Karolinska deployed Zebra's TLP 2844 desktop printers for printing test tube labels, emergency room ID tags, patient records, blood, plasma and specimens to be sent for analysis, as well as patient labels and ID-bands for acute cases.
"When you work in a hospital environment, it's important to properly understand the problems associated with handling such a high volume of identical-looking items. Our largest challenge was finding a single labeling solution suitable for all the diverse hospital areas," said Svante Lewald, systems technician at Karolinska Hospital.
In addition to the Zebra solution, Karolinska implemented TakeCare, a software system which enables hospital personnel to follow up on a patient's healthcare history from anywhere in the facility, greatly reducing the risk of providing the wrong treatment due to a lack of information. Now, when a physician orders a blood, plasma or tissue test, he enters the order into the TakeCare system, which in turn generates a bar code and a laboratory identity (LID) number. After choosing which tests should be performed and the number of labels to be printed, he then attaches each label to the test tubes and sends them off to the lab.
Reaping the Benefits
Through the reduction of the manual work involved in handling tests, Karolinska has managed to improve overall efficiency and reduce the workload of their healthcare professionals. In turn, hospital personnel now have more time to do their jobs, especially taking care of patients.
Standardizing the specimen labeling process enabled Karolinska to almost eliminate incorrect labels and misidentifying the results or the patient. Now that all orders have been integrated, it is much easier for staff to process and analyze the high volume of daily tests and ensure accuracy within their processes.
"This new system has brought us yet another step closer to more secure and efficient healthcare. Zebra's printing solutions and the integration with our TakeCare hospital system has made it easier for our doctors and nurses to administer necessary tests to patients, as well as reduced the time it takes to get results back to the medical staff," Lewald stated.
Cristina De Martini is market development leader, Zebra Technologies.