It’s a new year and a great time to make sure that your hospital’s or health system’s laboratory courier system—the lifeblood of your laboratory outreach program and critical for operational and financial success—is fine-tuned for 2022.
While the current situation for laboratory courier services has been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including staff illness and limited access to facilities, effective courier management means continued responsiveness to the demands of clients, while ensuring the timely, secure, reliable and cost-effective movement of clinical specimens for bioanalytical analyses.
Whether your organization maintains its own courier program or outsources it to a third party (such as through a group purchasing organization), good courier practices should be established, and performance should be monitored on a routine basis. Here are five good practices that have the potential to bolster your hospital’s laboratory courier operations leverage in the new year.
- Use an electronic specimen and courier tracking system as well as online ordering—A fully integrated barcode scan and a GPS system allows for real-time courier location tracking and provides a history of specimen locations. This knowledge makes it easier to respond to clients’ needs, particularly for stat testing, and allows for specimen pickup verification and tracking. The ability to place orders online can improve responsiveness and enhance client satisfaction with email confirmation of orders received and delivered as well as real-time tracking.
- Ensure couriers have access to a mobile telephone throughout the delivery process and that it’s integrated with the specimen and courier tracking system—It is important for couriers to be connected to central dispatch through a mobile phone and GPS tracking at all times. Ideally, the mobile telephone systems used by laboratory couriers should have a courier-specific app to scan barcodes, complete orders and capture signatures upon pickup and delivery. This capability minimizes the possibility of lost specimens and supports the courier’s ability to respond to stat requests from clients.
- Couriers should offer on-demand services as well as routine, scheduled services—Offering on-demand services in addition to routed and STAT services can be a competitive advantage for laboratory outreach businesses. Routinely reviewing routes and the courier network structure helps to eliminate inefficiencies and create optimized courier programs, which supports cost reductions and service improvement. In addition, couriers should at a minimum be equipped with the necessary containers to transport ambient, refrigerated, and frozen specimens, including coolers, ice packs and dry ice if required. Temperatures should be monitored by the courier at pickup and delivery and out-of-compliance matters should be immediately reported.
- Ensure couriers receive safety, biohazard control, regulatory compliance and client service training—Laboratory couriers are working with unique and sensitive medical deliveries, primarily clinical specimens. They also are one of the most client-facing positions in a laboratory. As such, professional appearance and demeanor matter. In addition, ensure couriers receive ongoing training in the proper pick-up, handling, transportation, and delivery of ambient, refrigerated, and frozen specimens. Couriers should complete the training and documentation necessary for compliance with important regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, International Air Transport Association, Transportation Security Administration and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, for example.
- Have a documented contingency plan that describes how courier services will be provided during an emergency—It is essential to have a contingency plan in place for continued service in the event of an emergency. This should include cross-training employees and couriers to provide seamless route coverage, the ability for staff to work remotely and backup systems in place for computer and phone systems. Ensure that the contingency plan is tested and that everyone understands their roles.
It’s critical that your hospital’s or health system’s laboratory courier program can continue to move clinical materials for testing. The new year is a great time to check in with your own program or with your third-party vendor to evaluate the courier capabilities. If your organization needs additional assistance with its laboratory courier program, feel free to reach out to me.
Special thanks to Susan Uihlein, vice president of business development, Lab Logistics, for contributing to the insights contained in this blog post.
About the author. Walter Valliere brings more than 45 years of experience leading initiatives to grow market share and reduce operating costs through process improvements, strategic outsourcing, business restructuring, business consolidations, supply chain optimization and new venture development. Nine years with Vizient, Valliere has also held principal leadership/ownership positions with both a multi-site, multi-state independent laboratory and a specialty consulting firm that served health care, biotech and biopharma industries. Valliere earned a Doctor of Sciences degree in microbiology from Pierre and Marie Curie University (Paris VI) and was a post-doctoral fellow at the Pasteur Institute. He also holds professional certifications in ITIL, PRINCE2 project management and Six Sigma.