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Make sure your specimen tubes are “best dressed”

Proper labeling ensures that the lab can process your specimen quickly and efficiently.


Patient identification and specimen labeling are both crucial in the preanalytical phase of laboratory testing. Properly identifying the patient and maintaining that identity throughout specimen collection helps prevent laboratory errors. And labeling the specimen after collection at the bedside and in front of the patient lessens the chances the patient’s specimen will be mislabeled.

Mislabeling due to improper identification can have disastrous consequences to the patient and may include misdiagnosis, incorrect treatment, failure to treat the patient, over- and under-medicating, and even death.

In addition to preventing those undesired consequences, proper labeling will help the laboratory to process the specimen quickly and efficiently.

Labeling guidelines

For blood specimens:

  • The label should be placed on the tube just under the cap with the patient’s name component near the top (specimen cap).
  • The vertical bar code must be free of wrinkles.
  • When the label is placed correctly, there will be a “window” on the back of the tube where the label edges should not quite meet.
  • Laboratory automation depends on the collector placing labels as described above.

For non-blood specimens:

  • These must have the specimen source clearly printed or written on the specimen collection container (not the lid).
  • This should be very specific and must match the specimen source that is entered on the EHR laboratory order.
  • Non-blood specimens must be in their own specimen bag. Specimens sent to lab in this manner are quickly processed and given to the medical technologists for testing.

Following proper specimen-labeling processes will help prevent many of the delays seen in the laboratory. If an unlabeled specimen arrives at the lab via tube system, processing staff is impacted by the amount of time it takes to figure out whose specimen they received. Sometimes the lab has to wait until the nurse calls looking for results.

If processors can decipher whose specimen was sent to lab unlabeled, they are able to order a redraw. Redraws impact phlebotomy staff as it takes them away from STATS and other important timed draws. Ultimately, non-labeled or incorrectly labeled specimens delay processing and testing of specimens, lower patient experience scores and ultimately delay patient care.

What can you do to help? Follow Asante’s labeling policy, “Specimen Labeling and Collection, Patient Care Services,” 400-PCS-NURS-0893.

Use the “best dressed guide” to visualize proper labeling for a blood tube. Call the Lab with any specimen labeling questions. We are happy to help educate on best collection practices.

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