Proper handling of lab specimens can help prevent medical errors

Many residents of New Jersey visit their primary care physician annually as part of preventive care and provide blood, urine or a tissue sample for lab analysis. Laboratories are an integral part of preventive care, medical diagnosis, treatment options and future care of patients. When a healthcare provider fails to properly order or interpret lab samples, it may be considered medical malpractice.

Recently, the Emergency Care Research Institute’s Patient Safety Organization collected information from various specialty clinics, health systems, doctor’s offices, hospitals and in- and out-patient clinics and found that nearly 70 percent of medical errors occurred before and after – and not during – lab analysis.

Based on this finding, ECRI recommended five ways to minimize medical errors related to laboratories:

  • Implementing a bar code identification system to prevent labeling mistakes and correctly confirming the identity of patients from whom samples are obtained
  • Automatically transmitting laboratory results to respective doctors (electronically)
  • Identifying mistakes early, learning from them and preventing them in the future
  • Establishing protocols to prevent mix-ups of results and giving them to the right patients, such as reading the results out loud
  • Establishing hospital wide protocols for accepting and rejecting samples and improving communications between the lab and healthcare provider

Patient safety is crucial in healthcare. Despite on-going efforts to identify solutions and minimize the problem of medical errors, they still happen. A medical error is defined as the failure to complete a planned action or the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim, resulting in harm to the patient.

Healthcare providers have an on-going duty to provide a reasonable standard of care to all patients. If they provide negligent care that causes injury, doctors, nurses, hospitals and other healthcare providers can be held liable through medical malpractice lawsuits. An injured patient may be able recover damages, including lost wages, past and future medical expenses resulting from the medical error, damages for pain and suffering and more.

Source: MedCity News, “5 ways to reduce medical errors associated with lab specimens,” Stephanie Baum, July 31, 2012

Posted in: Medical Malpractice