Mayo Clinic Laboratories uses enhanced technology to safeguard patient specimens

closeup of RFID tags used for tracking and identifying

To improve specimen safety and tracking, Mayo Clinic Laboratories is using an enhanced form of radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tracking for patient samples from collection point to lab.

Every patient sample collected for lab testing holds information hidden waiting to be revealed. A test might show that all is well, or it could expose a diagnosis that requires immediate care. It could uncover the reason for mysterious symptoms, or it might point to the need for another course of treatment.

In many cases, laboratory test results open the door to the next step in a patient’s care journey.

To unlock that information, though, each specimen must be carefully shepherded from the location where it is collected to the lab bench. It’s a process that’s closely regulated and monitored, and lost, misplaced, or mislabeled specimens are rare. But it can happen. And if it does, obtaining a replacement sample may be difficult or impossible, not to mention emotionally taxing for all involved.

To reduce the risk of missing specimens, Mayo Clinic uses an enhanced form of radio-frequency identification, or RFID, to track patient samples.

In collaboration with key clinical partners, Mayo Clinic’s Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology upgraded its RFID technology in 2019. And it 2020, it published two peer-reviewed studies analyzing the results. Those results showed improved specimen tracking and heightened protection of valuable — sometimes irreplaceable — patient samples as they wend their way from collection point to the lab.

The benefits of RFID tracking

RFID technology involves affixing custom-printed labels to an item, and then using RFID readers located along the route that item travels to monitor its progress. This technology isn’t new. It’s used to track everything from online retail orders to pizza deliveries. To date, however, it hasn’t been widely employed in health care settings.

“Many industries are far ahead of health care in use of this technology,” says R. Ross Reichard, M.D., a Mayo Clinic pathologist and one of the leads on Mayo’s RFID project. “Think about the specificity of tracking items shipped through delivery services. You can know where your package — and even your pizza — is located more accurately than many specimens that go from a clinical practice to a lab for testing.”

Read the rest of the article on Mayo Clinic Laboratories Insight.

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