According to an internal survey of PDC laboratory label users, with an average 5,500 specimens passing through laboratories monthly, accurate identification is critical, and drastically impacts your lab’s operational performance.


According to a study published in the Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, specimen labeling errors account for 55.5% of identification errors in the lab.1 Specimen labeling errors continue to threaten all healthcare facilities, no matter their size or amount of specimens processed.  No laboratory is immune to the damaging effects yielded by specimen labeling errors.   In fact, 66% of surveyed lab clinicians claim specimen labeling improvements are needed in their facilities.    

Improving patient safety and reducing specimen errors continue to be top priorities among laboratories, with 90% of surveyed labs stating specimen labeling errors are a key concern for their labs.  Mislabeled, unlabeled, or incomplete specimen labels often go unnoticed, generating damaging repercussions for your laboratory.  Shedding light on such an important and widespread issue will help your facility gain awareness, so tools can be employed to help reduce specimen labeling errors.

Here are 3 Ways Specimen Labeling Errors Threaten Your Laboratory:

  1. Compromise Patient Safety

Patient safety is the utmost concern among healthcare facilities, and specimen labeling errors can place your patient in dire life-or-death situations. Taking into consideration that up to 70% of treatment options are determined by lab results,2 it is imperative that all specimen labels be labeled correctly with the proper patient identification, so that all lab results correspond to the correct patient.  Errors in specimen labeling lead to a higher number of inaccurate test results (e.g. wrong patient-wrong results), which can delay patient’s results and treatment options.  This is not only dangerous to the health of the patient, but negatively impacts their satisfaction with your facility and compromises their peace of mind.

  1. Increase Lab & Hospital Expenses

Specimen labeling errors not only compromise the safety of your patient, but also increase lab and hospital expenses.  Mislabeled or misaligned labels lead to added costs for retesting and supplementary supplies.  Lab retests caused by errors may not be reimbursed, leaving your lab and hospital susceptible to unnecessary hidden expenses that can add up quickly.  Increased staff hours and length of patient stay are also costly consequences associated with specimen labeling errors.

3. Inefficiency Slows Down Your Lab

The threats specimen labeling errors have on your laboratory surpass monetary increases, and hinder the efficiency of your lab.  Valuable staff time is wasted by performing label error corrections.  When staff must perform numerous patient sample re-draws and retesting, the efficiency and productivity of your lab diminishes, and staff productivity and satisfaction is negatively affected.

Any specimen labeling error, no matter how small it may seem at the time, leaves your lab vulnerable and at risk, ultimately compromising the safety of your patients.

Below are 3 best practices for reducing specimen labeling errors in your laboratory:

  1. Use at Least Two Patient Identifiers

Specimens must be properly labeled at the time of collection, by using positive patient identification prior to administering the patient’s test, and applying the label to the specimen.  Medication containers must be in the presence of your patient when labeling, to ensure it is the right patient and test. To comply with Joint Commission National Patient Safety Goals (NPSG 01.01.01) and IQCP, your specimen must always be labeled with at least two patient identifiers (e.g. patient’s name full legal name, date of birth, medical record number, and sample source).

2. Enforce Periodic Quality Audits for Proper Labeling 

In addition to having at least two patient identifiers on the specimen label, it is imperative to confirm that specimens are properly labeled and legible. All specimens must have a quality label affixed to them, with no missing pertinent patient information. Be sure the label has the correct patient name, patient information, contents, and specimen source.  Avoid handwritten labels, since legibility is essential, and misinterpreting handwriting can greatly impact patient safety.  It is important to conduct proper training and periodic audits for all staff, to ensure that all specimens are labeled correctly every time.

3. Implement Barcode ID System

Since handwritten specimen labels run the risk of negatively affecting your facility’s efficiency and decreasing patient safety, it is highly advantageous to implement a facility-wide barcode ID system.  In fact, effectiveness of barcoding for reducing patient specimen and lab testing identification errors is part of the CDC’s Laboratory Medicine Best Practices (LMBP).3  When establishing a barcode ID system, consistent scanning is vital.  86% of reported labs use barcoding, but an overwhelming 44% do not scan consistently, and 14% never scan their label’s barcode or patient ID wristband. Be sure to implement facility-wide quality management protocols to ensure staff consistently follows the designated process for scanning patient and specimen barcodes.

Ultimately, it is important that you purchase quality labels that can withstand harsh hospital environments. No matter how efficient your system, if labels are falling off your blood tubes, or if print is smearing or fading, your facility is at a higher risk for specimen identification errors.



1,2,3  Valenstein PN, Raab SS, Walsh MK.  Identification Errors Involving Clinical Laboratories: A College of American Pathologists Q-Probes Study of Patient and Specimen Identification Errors at 120 Institutions.  Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2006; 130: 1106-1113


3 Ways Specimen Labeling Errors Threaten Your Laboratory
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3 Ways Specimen Labeling Errors Threaten Your Laboratory
We shed some light on 3 ways specimen labeling errors can threaten your laboratory and 3 best practices for reducing such errors.
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Jess Johnson is the Senior Brand Manager for Healthcare at PDC, helping to communicate to healthcare customers how PDC solutions can help them with workplace and patient safety. She joined PDC in 2019, with a background in B2B marketing communications and content creation. Jess has Marketing and Journalism degrees from Miami University in Oxford, OH. Originally from Northeast Ohio, Jess now lives in Santa Clarita, CA with her husband and pit-lab mix, Cashmere.


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