Specimen Logistics: The Rx for a Better Dx

Using best practices in specimen preparation, packaging, and shipping can improve efficiency for diagnostic laboratories.

The US healthcare market is valued at $2.8 trillion, with diagnostic testing directing 70% of all spend (1, 2). To put that into perspective, 13% of US gross domestic product (GDP), or 13 cents of every dollar, is guided by what occurs at the tip of a needle, urine cup, or specimen vial. Factor in the activity in clinical trials in the US and abroad and diagnostic laboratories are at an inflection point.

What matters most in specimen logistics
To achieve improved efficiency and increased value, labs must look at logistics as a strategic lever in their business process. Consider the following best practices.  

Turnaround time (TAT). TAT is directly impacted by logistics. Firms can increase TAT by bringing logistics partners into the conversation early on and partnering with transportation integrators that offer services such as customized early delivery solutions.

Efficiency. Firms require cost-effective solutions-in many cases, complex medical-courier solutions can be replaced by parcel-carrier movements and then optimized by mode using ground and air combinations that generate savings without compromising speed. 

Risk mitigation/specimen stability. Services such as earlier specimen delivery and enhanced tracking and intervention increase efficiency and product integrity. Monitoring and intervention strategies minimize threats due to environmental factors by buffering against loss, and earlier specimen delivery eliminates staff downtime early in the day, enabling faster delivery of results to healthcare providers. For example, UPS Proactive Response Secure offers shipment monitoring 24/7, and if the package is in danger of a temperature excursion, alerts are sent to a global control tower. A team mobilizes to retrieve the shipment and develop an alternative delivery strategy.  

Packaging. Cold chain for specimens must be precise. Some specimens can be shipped under ambient conditions while blood must be refrigerated. Other specimens are more sensitive. For example, blood specimens for some specialized cancer therapies require cryogenic protection at -150 °C and an active packaging solution. Some parcel carriers have extensive consultative experience for optimizing packing and thermal protection while minimizing costs-leveraging their expertise is important. 

Clinician experience. Labs depend on how well clinicians package and prepare specimens to mitigate damage and maintain product integrity. Having a quality control process in place is essential, especially with new, on-demand and direct-to-patient services becoming more of a trend and shifting the traditional transportation model. Some parcel carriers now have clinician aids available. Labs should also maintain certification by outside agencies, such as the College of American Pathologists, to ensure compliance, maintain accuracy of test results, and uphold the highest standards of excellence.  

By looking to their supply chains as a way to optimize costs and maximize service, labs can position themselves for future growth and greater flexibility.

References

  1. The Economist Intelligence Unit, Industry Report, Healthcare: United States (June 2014).
  2. Quest Diagnostics, 70% of medical decisions are based on lab results: Solutions to optimize operations, improve quality and lower costs at hospital clinical labs (October 2014)

About the author
Robin Hooker is director of healthcare marketing, UPS.