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Using a team-based approach in health care to reduce lab errors

Despite what “The Non-Fat Yogurt” episode of Seinfeld would have us believe, the majority of lab errors in the health care industry do not actually occur in the lab. Errors can happen any time during the preanalytic, analytic or postanalytic phase, according to a PSO Monthly Brief by ECRI Institute. In fact, only 7% to 18% of lab errors occur in the lab itself.

The first step toward reducing lab errors and improving patient safety, reports ECRI, is creating a sense of teamwork and getting stakeholders at all levels of the organization engaged. With this in place, the next step would be to perform a proactive risk assessment, such as a failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), to identify potential process-based flaws.

Health care organizations should consider conducting FMEA for all processes related to lab work such as specimen collection, labeling and result communication. ECRI offers some sample strategies for each stage of the testing process to help reduce lab errors. Some of those recommendations fall under the umbrella of health IT adoption:

  • At the preanalytic stage, recommended strategies include bar-code systems for patient and specimen identification, and electronic order entry.
  • At the postanalytic stage, strategies can include automatic transmission of reports by computer, pager, or other electronic means, and an easily understood format for reporting test results.

Finally, ECRI recommends keeping all staff members up-to-date on the latest procedures for lab specimen collection and other processes that occur outside the lab.

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