In the media

Reducing preanalytical errors through patient education

By Morgana Moretti

Today's Clinical Lab

05 March 2024


Charlie Paterson, clinical development expert at PA Consulting, is quoted in Today’s Clinical Lab discussing how clinical labs can empower patients with the right knowledge to minimize preanalytical errors, ultimately enhancing the reliability of lab results.

The article notes that the preanalytical phase covers a broad spectrum of activities, including patient preparation, sample collection, transport, and processing. Notably, it accounts for up to 75 percent of laboratory errors. Proper patient education and preparation is essential to maintaining the integrity and quality of sample results.

This article explores how clinical labs can empower patients with the right knowledge to minimize preanalytical errors, ultimately enhancing the reliability of lab results.

Patient engagement leads to better health care

Patient education involves influencing patient behavior and conveying the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to maintain or improve health.

Charlie said: “Educating patients about their role in the preanalytical phase is crucial, as their choices and behaviors can significantly influence the accuracy and reliability of the test outcomes. Errors in the preanalytical process introduce risks for the patient, hinder the study's validity (for pre-approval products), create unnecessary waste, and drive up system costs.”

Common patient-related preanalytical errors include medication interference, improper specimen collection, and inadequate fasting. For example, consider a lipid profile test, which requires patients to fast for 12 hours for accurate results. A patient who misunderstands or forgets these instructions may eat before the test, leading to inaccurately high lipid levels. Similarly, inadequate specimen collection, such as insufficient urine volume or contamination, can lead to false results or the need for repeat testing.

These patient-related incidents are far from rare. In a study surveying outpatient cases—primarily individuals over 65 years of age with chronic diseases—patients improperly collected a 24-hour urine sample in more than half of the cases. Patients did not follow the prescribed instructions, discarded part of the urine sample, or used an improper container. When such errors in sample collection occur, the entire process must be repeated.

Effective strategies for patient education

Educating the patient to reduce preanalytical errors goes far beyond only explaining the practical aspects of urine or blood sampling. Lab personnel must emphasize the effect of possible biological confounders, such as dietary intake, diuresis, exercise, medication, and other interferents.

Information needs to be specific and uncomplicated. If delivered verbally, labs can reinforce in-person conversations with written or illustrated instructions. Ideally, patients would also receive written guidelines, such as a preparatory “dos and don'ts” list for their blood test, either attached to their test requests or distributed by healthcare professionals.

He continues: “Partnering with physicians and direct physician-to-patient engagement in a bi-directional discussion results in positive outcomes when the sample is collected close to the time of the consultation. However, as the time between discussion and sample collection increases, there is a greater need to use alternatives to drive compliance.”

Different patient groups may require different approaches. Elderly patients might benefit from larger print materials, while younger patients might engage more with digital platforms. Remember that patients have different learning styles, so you can ask if your patient learns best by watching a video or reading.

Charlie highlights the evolution of patient education methods. He notes that while written materials supported by scheduled SMS prompts have been effective, technological advancement is introducing more targeted and interactive solutions.

Charlie adds: “Options are expanding to include web chat and SMS chat functions, allowing patients to respond to prompts or connect with real or virtual agents to explore questions or concerns.” Looking ahead, he foresees a trend toward highly personalized patient education. "As technologies advance, we expect to see the automatic generation of guides tailored to a patient's specific schedule and needs. This will involve the automatic creation of scripts in various languages and their translation into video, all achievable with just a few clicks.”

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