News & Insights >   3  Risks Inherent in Patient Specimen Tracking

Anatomic pathology laboratories play an integral role in the diagnosis and proper treatment of individuals each day across the globe. Billions of medical specimens are collected and tested each year and these tests result in important diagnoses and lead to corresponding medical decisions. Yet many are misdiagnosed through improper handling in the lab testing process. 

Patient specimen tracking is a historically complicated process. It involves multiple parties and handoffs making it ripe for error. As an unfortunate reality, it is estimated by The Committee on Quality of Healthcare in America and the Institute of Medicine that nearly 100,000 patients die each year as a result of misdiagnosis. One preventable error is improper specimen tracking, which can lead to misdiagnosis. However, certain methods can greatly minimize specimen tracking risk and improve patient safety. 

Specimen tracking exists to allow laboratories to know the status of specimens throughout the testing process. Numerous laboratories have homegrown methods of tracking specimens from start to finish, often using excel spreadsheets and paper trails that act as a log of where the specimen has been and who has had contact with it in the process. These methods increase the risk of errors, and as a result, errors may go unnoticed due to a lack of emphasis on patient specimen tracking in the process.

Three key risks can be involved in lab processes without clear specimen tracking:

Risk 1: Improper documentation 

Medical specimens are associated with a specific patient and when a specimen is collected it is initially identified, verified, and then continuously logged with patient detail throughout the process. Surprisingly many of today’s methods of tracking often rely upon physical handwriting for identification and constant relabeling of specimens. Messy, illegible penmanship definitely packs a high risk of misinterpretation. As the specimens go through the process, one letter or number can be confused for another and a whole new and erroneous label is created in relabeling. Even with typed logs, human error in retyping or printing can occur leading to the same issue. With sample identity skewed, the whole process is compromised and patient safety is at risk.

Risk 2: Wasted time

With pathologists often having to get through large loads of patient specimens in a single day, the time lost reading through paper trails or electronic documents to stay organized can impact time management. Often having to double and triple check the logs, lab techs and pathologists get off track. This may create a backlog that takes the focus away from diagnosis reporting.

Risk 3: Lack of expertise

Without a streamlined process in place and a clear workflow specified, specimen tracking can become more complicated than necessary and seen as tedious activity for all involved. To comply with standards mandated by CLIA and CAP, the entire workflow needs to be thoroughly documented, and technicians must be trained and certified as capable of performing the trained tasks annually.

Pivoting to the future with Cerebrum:

These three risks can be mitigated through the application of innovative laboratory information systems technology. Like many inventory control systems common today throughout most industries, Cerebrum’s advanced lab workflow solution, LABdivus, ensures specimen integrity while eliminating the types of human error that come with commonly employed methods of specimen tracking. LABdivus organizes the specimen process data and integrates the patient record information, while providing backups and updates throughout the process so messy handwriting and wasted time don’t take over control and decimate sample integrities. The platform eliminates the stress involved in tracking, while still providing full control over the data and the utmost security. Available for any anatomic pathology laboratory, Cerebrum is a workflow solution that fully automates patient specimen tracking.



Coons, J., Courtois, H. LEAN lab puts patient safety first.

Yu, M. Risks Associated with Laboratory Informatics; Avoiding the Pitfalls that Can Harm Patients.

Rasanen, M. Specimen Tracking Systems: Tracking Samples Helps Reduce Misdiagnosis.



Fill out the form below to Schedule a 1:1 Demo