Clinical LaboratoriesLaboratory tests influence medical decisions, treatment options and thereby, people’s lives. Accurate test results reduce medical errors and promote patient safety. Adherence to good laboratory practices and basic policies is essential to ensure error-free, consistent test results.

Recent Investigation Provides Disturbing Evidence

Inaccurate lab results and lab errors can endanger patient’s lives. Lab tests are always assumed to be right, but this may not be the case. According to a recent report, there are several instances where the failure of laboratories to follow basic policies and procedures have resulted in accurate test results and put patients at risk.

According to the report, “Lab tests influence 70% of medical decisions. With 7 billion to 10 billion tests done each year in the U.S., even a small error rate affects millions of patients.”

While occasional mistakes are inevitable in any field, this investigation identified that lab errors occur as the result of attempts to cut costs and save money. The errors reported include:

  • Usage of expired products to test children for lead poisoning and to screen cancer
  • Blood not refrigerated before a transfusion
  • Incorrectly labeled or swapped samples
  • No quality control to assure accuracy of tests for diabetes, herpes and genetic effects

The report highlights cases of personal impact where many patients were harmed by laboratory inaccurate results for different types of tests.

Best Practices to help Ensure Reliable and Accurate Testing

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) contributes to best laboratory practices through a number of programs that address testing, training and more. It is critical that all laboratories adhere to these best practices to ensure accuracy of test results as well as safety in the laboratory. These guidelines include:

  • Appoint educated, trained and experienced analysts
  • Keep data in all forms – electronic/digital form and paper
  • Maintain documentation in a way that it is readily available
  • Use quality lab equipment, keep it operational and remove damaged machines
  • Ensure that routine inspection, cleaning and maintenance of instruments
  • Calibrate instruments before performing a test method
  • Use control charts to track the results
  • Store compounds properly and keep track of expiration date