In the Field, Clinical Laboratory Specimen Transportation is Being Complicated by the COVID-19 Pandemic
Lab leaders who adopt best practices in courier services will help ensure their lab’s supply chains remain secure
Hospital and health systems using courier services to transport patients’ biological specimens from doctors’ offices and other locations to clinical laboratories for testing and reporting are finding those services delayed or disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Limited office hours, closed physician practices, and the need for drivers to take time for symptom checking on healthcare campuses are among the growing challenges faced by couriers transporting medical laboratory specimens during this pandemic, experts told Dark Daily.
All these developments require courier operations and logistics companies to think outside the box for solutions that address the unique challenges triggered by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic that have disrupted the normal operations of physicians’ offices, hospitals, and other healthcare providers. For example, many clinical labs struggle to obtain enough specimen collection and specimen transport supplies to sustain both their nascent COVID-19 testing programs and their routine testing operations.
One national logistics company recognized that it could help labs with the disruption in the supply chain for laboratory supplies caused by the coronavirus outbreak. In the early weeks of the pandemic, West Haven, Conn.-based Lab Logistics and its sister company Path-Tec, took the initiative to develop collaborations and strategic partnerships with several established manufacturers of medical laboratory supplies. Now it could not only be a source of much-needed supplies for its clients, but its network of couriers could supply the increase in services for all the locations where such supplies were needed.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak caused widespread disruption to the daily activities of hospitals, health systems, physician’s offices, and other providers. According to Susan Uihlein, Senior Vice President Business Development-Hospital Couriers at Lab Logistics—a company that creates, implements, and manages courier models customized to medical laboratory, hospitals, and health systems—in response to the pandemic, there was an immediate need by one of the largest multi-regional Health Systems in New York to align courier and logistics services to meet the new realities of how its facilities would respond to patient needs. It was also necessary that logistics solutions be complementary with the health systems’ COVID-19 policies.
“This health system requested that Lab Logistics’ drivers access the hospital’s personnel tracking application upon arrival,” explained Uihlein. “The health system’s new COVID-19 policy required everyone wishing to enter the health system campus to complete a coronavirus screening process—including having a temperature reading taken—and then receive a status confirmation on a smartphone screen. This obviously impacted the couriers’ progress on their routes.”
“We have 2,600 medical-specific couriers throughout the United States, and although all couriers undergo extensive orientation regarding known infectious transport, this current situation has spotlighted how important (COVID-19) is to our clients,” Brian McArdle, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lab Logistics, told Dark Daily.
“The couriers represent us and our clients,” he continued. “They are out in the field, they are picking up, delivering, and rolling with the punches as far as what a healthcare system or a clinical laboratory needs from them—from photo IDs to wearing masks and gloves. The process keeps evolving. And we have evolved with it.”
“Our operations team makes sure that we work with each client to flexibly react to changes in that day’s pickups and deliveries, as appropriate. There has been much optimization and on-the-fly changes,” said Uihlein.
In fact, the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a 26% increase in requests for specimen delivery, PPE, and COVID-19 related supply chain movement, according to data on the California, Louisiana, and New York City healthcare markets provided by Lab Logistics.
Clinical Laboratories Should Review Specimen Transport Procedures
Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic is putting unique stresses on the logistics and transportation services operated by hospital systems, medical labs and anatomic pathology groups. That why it would be timely and appropriate for lab leaders to review/update best practices and necessary requirements that ensure efficient management of clinical laboratory specimens.
“The COVID-19 pandemic triggered heightened risks in security, custody, and transit tracking of specimens so as to maintain a heightened biosafety level, while at the same time, the pandemic dramatically reduced the daily volume of more routine lab samples,” notes a Special Edition White Paper Dark Daily produced in partnership with Lab Logistics, titled, “Specimen Management and Logistics Issues to Evaluate for Continuous Quality Improvement—3 High-Risk Medical Courier Support Services.”
Topics covered in this highly-informative white paper include:
- Handling and tracking laboratory specimen samples;
- Confirming medical security, chain of custody, and transit tracking;
- Coordinating test kits, supplies, reagents, lab equipment, and instruments;
- Approaching a medical courier service conversion.
“By utilizing a logistics system that includes a dedicated courier, medical laboratories and healthcare systems can manage all aspects of transportation specimen transport, including handling and tracking of specimens, medical security, chain of custody, tracking supply inventory, and delivery. Successfully executed, all of these functions can generate financial improvements,” notes the white paper.
Tracking Specimen Arrival and Predicting Which Tests Will Be Needed
One technology that lab and healthcare system leaders can use to control costs and staffing involves online real-time tracking of drivers to enhance test turnaround time and determine when tests will be performed.
Lab Logistics’ version of this technology uses barcode scanning, GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking, and an online portal that enables its clients to view the routes and stops a driver has made for the lab. Lab leaders can determine how many specimens are expected, and what type of tests will be required, before the specimens arrive.
“They can see the volume coming in and they can staff-up based on the information we are giving them and not over-staff. It’s really good information,” Uihlein said.
Lab Logistics’ platform also integrates with a hospital’s laboratory information system (LIS) through the lab’s barcode. “The integration makes it possible for labs to get faster information from the field into their systems and create accessioning,” Uihlein explained.
Specimen Management Improved through Route Tracking
Tracking their drivers has enabled some labs to find new routes with less stops. Mike Napolitano, former General Manager for Constitution Diagnostics Network, Sunrise Medical Laboratory, and Sonic Healthcare, discovered that modified routes enhanced his lab’s efficiency.
“We found that some drivers were doing daily pickups and we were not getting any specimens. Some clients were on vacation, stopped using the laboratory altogether, or weren’t doing that type of laboratory work anymore,” Napolitano told the white paper researchers.
Driver tracking also enabled Ochsner Health System in Louisiana to avoid “hot shots”—one-time delivery pickups which could be 90 miles away from the lab, explained Lloyd Gravois, Assistant Vice President of Logistics-Supply Chain, in the white paper.
Medical laboratory leaders who wish to enhance their lab’s specimen management and solve logistics issues during and after the COVID-19 pandemic are encouraged to download a copy of the Free Special Edition white paper by clicking here, or by placing this URL in their web browsers: https://www.darkdaily.com/free-special-edition-white-paper-specimen-management-and-logistics-issues-to-evaluate-for-continuous-quality-improvement-3-high-risk-medical-courier-support-services/.
—Donna Marie Pocius