How Specimen Identification Works

Andy Tippet, Vertical Marketing Lead, Health Care, the Americas, Zebra Technologies

150,000: that is the number of adverse conditions caused annually by the misidentification of patient specimens. Yet there is a solution that could bring that down to zero.

By bringing the identification of the patients, their specimens and the clinician to the patient bedside, health care providers can drastically reduce the misidentification of patient specimens. A critical component of this new process is having a mobile printer on hand to immediately label the sample after it is drawn. Additionally, a mobile computing device, with scanning capabilities, needs to be available.

In an optimal mobile specimen collection workflow, the clinician scans their own badge, scans the patient wristband, performs the blood draw or sample collection and immediately prints and affixes a label to the vial—all at the patient bedside. With this process the system can link the clinician, the patient and the specimen without mistaking one specimen for another.

Additionally, this system requires a number of devices. Having device management software to help organize and monitor the devices, along with a platform to manage them, takes the weight off of the health care IT organization. Finally, the devices used need to disinfectant ready, health care plastics that can endure continual wiping of the device to ensure a sterile and safe environment. 

With an estimated 1 in 25 patients acquiring infections while hospitalized on any given day, it is important to be aware of the risks. Public health agencies and health care providers, as well as patients and their families, all have critical roles to play in keeping patients safe.

On the frontlines

The public health workforce addresses patient safety by setting priorities and outlining strategies to prevent harm to patients. Common issues in health care settings include infections, medication errors and side effects.

At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we work with national policymakers and stakeholders to set benchmarks and goals for preventing common issues such as these. State and local health departments across the country use the goals and benchmarks that are developed at the national level to design prevention programs that provide oversight of healthcare facilities and improve patients’ access to health information.

Protect and serve

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals can implement prevention strategies to improve patient safety.

For example, electronic health records track prescription medications and improve coordination between care providers. Health care professionals also can use the principles of health literacy as a prevention strategy to improve patient safety.

Health information can be complex and difficult to understand. It is important that patients understand instructions from health care providers for taking medication and follow-up care. Health care providers can seek training on communicating complex health information in language that is easy to understand.

For example, offers free self-paced trainings for health care professionals that use health literacy principles to improve patient safety by preventing infections and unintentional harm caused by opioids and diabetes medications.

Self care

Patients and their families have an important role in ensuring their safety in health care settings.

Most importantly, patients and their families should ask questions if they don’t understand information about a medication or procedure. For example, if a patient is prescribed a medication, it is important to understand what the medication is used for, how to take the medication and if there are any side effects.

If a surgical procedure is recommended for a patient, it is important to ask why the surgery is needed, how often the surgeon performs the procedure and whether other treatment options are available.

"Reducing costs helps make access to safe, high-quality health care more affordable for everyone."

By taking an active role in understanding their care, patients and their families can partner with their health care providers to ensure better health outcomes. Patients and their families also can use resources such as “20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors” and “Five Steps to Safer Health Care,” available at, and Hospital Compare, available at, to find safety information.

Prevention strategies such as improving patients’ access to health information, using electronic health records and improving the health literacy of patients are more than just good policy for ensuring patient safety—strategies like these could save billions of dollars in health care costs. Reducing costs helps make access to safe, high-quality health care more affordable for everyone.

Dr. Wright does not endorse nor is he affiliated with any of the sponsors supporting this campaign.