Healthcare News & Insights

High-tech lab management solutions reduce medical errors & improve patient safety

GettyImages-177443106The third-leading cause of death in the United States is largely a preventable one: medical errors. In this guest post, Matthew Hawkins, president of a laboratory information systems provider, explains how high-tech lab management solutions can reduce medical errors and improve patient safety.


A recent study published in BMJ revealed at least 250,000 people die each year in this country due to patient harm from medical mistakes that occur at the provider or health system level. This is a larger number than previously reported, comprising 9.5% of all deaths nationwide.

The authors of the Johns Hopkins University study wrote that while “human error is inevitable,” a greater priority needs to be placed on prevention. They suggested “following principles that take human limitations into account” as one way to move the dial.

Innovative health IT solutions are clearly an effective way for health organizations to reduce the potential for human error and improve patient safety. For example, with 60% to 70% of all medical decisions tied to lab data, the automation of laboratory management solutions can reduce medical errors across the entire health system – while also improving communication and facilitating faster turnaround and treatment.

With laboratory data affecting so many other medical decisions, the implementation of safety-enhancing laboratory management solutions has far-reaching patient safety benefits. Some of the most impactful options include:

1. Barcode labeling and scanning that closes patient safety gaps

In the United States, between 0.1% and 5% of specimens are mismatched during the collection process. The use of barcode labels is a simple but powerful way to significantly reduce or eliminate mismatching errors.

To ensure positive patient identification, barcode labeling systems should support the Joint Commission’s National Patient Safety Goals 01.01.01 requiring the use of two patient identifiers and labeling in the presence of the patient. Labeling at the point of collection also can improve the turnaround time for results – fast turnaround times are critical in many situations and can reduce the risk of delayed or inappropriate treatment.

Barcoding systems facilitate specimen tracking through every step of the diagnostic process and maintain a record of collection dates and times, and user IDs. Not only does this provide protection from specimen loss or misplacement, it creates an accurate record of specimen collection activities. Collection records allow organizations to assess workflows and address issues that could be affecting turnaround times.

Barcode scanning is especially critical in blood management. Blood transfusions, which are high-risk for both infectious and noninfectious complications, are the highest volume procedure in U.S. healthcare. Twenty percent of all transfusion errors are a result of patient misidentification or specimen mislabeling, and most hospitals haven’t deployed automated bedside checks between patients and units prior to transfusion administration. The adoption of barcode technologies, particularly at the bedside, has great potential to close that gap and enhance patient safety.

2. Better connectivity to minimize opportunities for errors

Electronic connectivity between the lab and ordering physicians supports patient safety and also enhances workflows. Optimizing connectivity to the diagnostic community results in cleaner orders, which reduce mismatching errors and improve turnaround times and time to treatment. Connectivity also facilitates faster transmission of test results to ordering physicians.

Communication between ordering physicians and lab professionals is also improved with enhanced lab/physician connectivity. Ordering physicians can more easily consult with pathologists and make smarter decisions about what lab tests are appropriate. If they need assistance interpreting test results, they also have easier access to relevant data and to lab professionals.

3. Closed-loop systems can eliminate preventable mistakes

The adoption of closed-loop systems for specimen collection can eliminate preventable mistakes in patient identification, and specimen matching and management. Patient identification and label printing occur in front of the patient, and barcode scanning ensures smooth handoffs between departments. Streamlining workflows also reduces turn-around times, which means treatment decisions dependent on critical lab results can be made in a timely manner.

Implementing patient safety interventions within a healthcare organization can seem like a daunting task — but when providers and caregivers see progress, positive changes begin to occur and patient safety becomes part of the culture.

Automating laboratory operations is an excellent place to start making improvements to patient safety. Safety-enhancing laboratory management solutions are a proven way to decrease opportunities for human error and improve patient safety, including the risk of fatal medical errors.

Making lab safety a top priority just makes sense, given the broad reach of laboratory operations and the lab’s essential role in providing critical data for accurate patient diagnoses and appropriate treatments.

Matthew Hawkins is president of Sunquest Information Systems Inc., a provider of laboratory information systems.

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  1. Bhavesh Koladiya says:

    There are many Lab management solution provider, but i recommend to Quartzy. Streamline requesting with a simple to-use interface that allows you to view, act on and track your labs arrange requests. If you want to see much more Laboratory management software visit at SoftwareSuggest. They listed on many software with features, demos, comparison and much more.

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