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Training, simplified processes trim hospital lab errors


ANAHEIM, Calif. – Training hospital staff to have patients state their name and birth date before a specimen is taken and refusing to accept specimens before they are properly labeled are effective ways to reduce diagnostic errors, an expert said.

“Merely telling people to document and merely going out there and training a large group” of people has a low impact in addressing this issue, said Elizabeth Drozd, a patient safety analyst at the Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania-based ECRI Institute, which focuses on patient safety.

She spoke during a Tuesday session on diagnostic errors and prevention strategies in laboratory testing during the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management's annual conference.

“Look at your processes” and simplify them, she said. Health care practitioners have been “amazed at how many steps from collecting the sample to final reporting” are involved when this information is presented to them, said Ms. Drozd.

Leadership support of reducing errors is very important, she said. If there are problems gaining it, “develop a business case” to address the issue, such as showing officials the cost of collecting fresh specimens, she said.

“It is important to develop a good project champion,” which could be a member of the medical staff or chief medical officer, she said. All teams she has been involved in have been more successful when medical and administrative staff have been asked to help, Ms. Drozd said.

Also speaking at the session was Cynthia Wallace, senior risk management analyst at ECRI Institute in Plymouth Meeting, who discussed an April ECRI study that found 96% of diagnostic-related mistakes were associated with processes that actually occurred outside the laboratory, such as during test selection and ordering.

The study found that the top three types of lab-related problems involved mislabeled specimens, specimens with an incomplete or missing label, and results that were missing or delayed.

“Diagnostic error represents a leading cause of medical malpractice claims,” she said.

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