How to Optimize Laboratory Specimen Transport Process

April 10, 2023
Pharmaceutical Transport
a tray of specimen test tubes of various colors

While careful pre-analysis can go a long way to understanding what is going on in the body, at some point, samples must be taken to go deeper. The value of being able to take samples and test the specimens cannot be understated because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of diagnosis and experimentation. 

In many cases, samples are not just for testing and research. Careful analysis of specimens can lead to life-saving treatments. You cannot afford contamination or degradation of specimens because of poor or inefficient processes. That is why the laboratory specimen transport guidelines must be carefully considered. 

Common challenges in transportation and logistics

There is a delicate balance between urgency and care when it comes to transporting laboratory specimens. On one hand, every second is a risk to specimens, and getting results quickly is vital to so many procedures. On the other hand, rushing through processes is also a risk to specimens because corners get cut and quality standards drop. 

The majority of the challenges you will face in the process of specimen logistics will be caused by leaning too far on either side of this balance. Some of the typical challenges you will face are: 

  • Contamination of specimens
  • Delays that negatively impact results
  • Specimens getting lost or misplaced
  • Mislabelling of specimens
  • Mishandling of specimens causing breakage or distortion
  • Inadequate temperature control of specimens

You can also lean on best practices and technologies to support your process so that you can achieve more consistent delivery. 

Ways to optimize your specimen logistics process

Optimizing your specimen logistics process comes down to doing the basics well. You want to look for ways to create efficiencies at every step of the process, without compromising on quality. Here are a few key areas to look for optimization. 

  1. Labeling 

Clarity is key. Labels need to have the correct information, and information needs to be collected and updated throughout the process to be relevant. For example, specimen containers should have the following information at a minimum: 

  • Patient’s full name
  • Patient’s medical record number
  • Date and time of specimen collection
  • Specimen description or anatomic site of the specimen

It is also recommended that specimen containers be accompanied by lab tags that contain further information such as patient location, collector identification, specimen source, specimen temperature requirement, etc. 

  1. Temperature labels

As with any temperature-sensitive product, your transport process needs to be clear about the specimen’s temperature requirements. A simple way to ensure that specimens are kept at the correct temperature is to use a color coding system. Each color represents a different temperature range so that various stakeholders along the transportation journey can appropriately store and move specimens according to their needs. 

  1. Minimum time standards

A major factor to contend with when transporting specimens is time. The goal is to limit the time between extraction from the patient to the specimen’s analysis or testing. Your ability to do this however depends on what the specimen is and how far it needs to be transported. In many cases, you may simply need to take the specimen from one floor or ward to another, but in others, it could be another facility or even a city. 

The more time specimens spend in transit, the more chance they have of being contaminated or over-exposed. It is a good idea to set standards for the minimum time to deliver specimens from one place to another. When these standards are not met, it will allow you to assess whether they are still viable before continuing with costly and labor-intensive testing. 

Laboratory specimen transport guidelines

Being familiar and compliant with relevant policies and procedures will help you with the care side of the equation. Here are some of the laboratory specimen transport guidelines you should be aware of. 

International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO)

The International Organisation for Standardisation has developed two sets of standard requirements that pertain to the transport of laboratory specimens: 

  • ISO 15189:2012 specifies requirements for quality and competence in medical laboratories.
  • ISO/CD 20658 deals specifically with sample transportation in laboratory settings and in vitro diagnostic test systems.

Clinical Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI)

The CLSI sets out guidelines for handling and processing blood specimens. These guidelines are used by pathology labs and healthcare centers across the United States.

Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)

The United States government regulates clinical laboratories that offer testing services under the CLIA regulations. This includes all facilities that test human specimens for health assessment or to diagnose, prevent, or treat disease. 


Once you have looked at the laboratory specimen transport guidelines and the typical ways that you can optimize your existing processes, you can then look at what you can automate. You can expect better and more consistent specimen deliveries when you can minimize opportunities for human error. Which parts of the process to automate will depend on your process design and available technologies, but here are some examples to get you started. 

Information automation

Traditionally information capture and analysis has been a very manual process, but new technology platforms are making it easier to collect and visualize important information in one place. An example of this is Varcode’s Management Suite which puts all your temperature-related data into a single dashboard for easy decision-making. 

Temperature monitoring

As previously mentioned, temperature labels and scanning are important factors in specimen transportation. You can implement solutions that let you track and monitor specimens while they are being transported. Smart Tag and Scanning Suite, for example, help you to collect timeous and accurate data at each step of the transportation process.

Physical process

In some cases, even the physical process of transporting specimens can be automated. Medical facilities have begun using robotics to pack and move specimens for transport over short distances. 

It takes everyone in the value chain to ensure that specimens are transported reliably and consistently. Perhaps it’s time to check your process against laboratory specimen transport guidelines to find potential risks and areas for improved efficiency. 

Check out Varcode’s Smart Tag, Scanning Suite, and Management Suite today to see how you can optimize and automate aspects of your transportation process. Or contact us to find out how we can help. 

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