Proper handling and labeling of medical specimens is an essential aspect of public health, and it has never been more important than in the current state of emergency brought on by the corona virus pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has provided guidelines for specimen labeling during a respiratory disease outbreak The purpose of these standards is to protect specimen quality, ensure healthcare worker safety, support patient care, and give testing sites the information they need to comply with accreditation standards. The CDC guidelines can be found here.
Proper handling begins before the specimen is collected from the patient. The healthcare worker or lab technician must be certain that standard procedures are followed carefully. These include:
- Label sterile specimen containers with patient name, patient ID#, specimen type and date collected, either by writing in indelible ink directly on the container or using an appropriate label.
- For tubes, position the label completely vertically on the tube with identifying information at the top, leaving clear space through which to view the sample
- For syringes, the label must be positioned straight with the Fi 02 (fraction of inspired oxygen) written on it along with the value to be entered into the analyser.
- For both syringes and tubes, the label must be fully scanner friendly, i.e. positioned vertically with all information completely visible on the side to be scanned.
- Make sure that the label is correctly aligned in the printer so that none of the information is cut off.
- Observe fill marks. Do not overfill container or cover the window with the label.
- Follow posted guidelines for collection of Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Trichomonas Vaginalis samples (female specimen containers, male specimen containers, and urine collection guidelines), and anatomical pathology specimens.
If any of these procedures are not carefully observed, labeling errors can be the result. These can have potentially serious consequences for patient outcomes. In the absence of accurate test results, patient care can be delayed or administered incorrectly, leading to increased costs in the most minor cases to death of the patient in the most severe ones.
Avoid these consequences with strict adherence to labeling protocols and careful staff training and oversight.