It is essential for dermatology clinics to partner with a pathology lab that can effectively meet supply management and specimen transportation demands. With the number of active pathologists decreasing by 17.53 percent in recent years, the pressure is on to keep slides moving out the door with confidence.

By maintaining an adequate inventory of specimen containers, knowing how to prepare samples and request forms for shipping, and learning about transportation options, your practice can ensure that your tissue samples reach the pathology laboratory safely and on time. 

Specimen Containers 

When a dermatology clinic aligns with a pathology laboratory, it is the lab’s responsibility to keep the practice stocked with specimen containers to preserve and deliver tissue samples. These containers must be freely available to help practices return timely and accurate results to their patients.

Wide-mouth specimen containers carry 10 percent neutral buffered formalin. With approximately 18 months of shelf life, formalin is a liquid fixative that preserves the tissue while enhancing the appearance under the microscope. 

Specimen containers come in various sizes to meet the dimensions of small biopsies and large surgical samples. The tissue is sealed inside the container, and the patient’s name, age, sex, and other identifiers are recorded on the clear container’s label. Then, the material is placed in a biohazard bag and packaged to be picked up.

Request Forms and Shipping Bags

The clinic attaches the required documentation to the specimen using the request forms supplied by the pathology lab or, if applicable, automatically generated within the EMR. Because specimen mislabeling occurs in 0.2 to 0.3 percent of all laboratory cases, this step requires strict attention.

The request form provides details about the patient and the specimen, including the sample’s type and location, biopsy date, patient details, clinical information, medical reference numbers, and insurance information. Because not all laboratories can bill every insurance, dermatology clinics often are required to work with multiple labs that offer different insurance coverage.

When everything is in order, the request form and specimen container are enclosed in secure shipping bags and readied for transport. Should additional bags, request forms, or specimen containers be needed, the pathology laboratory should make it easy to place orders online or by phone. 

Specimen Transportation

The lab is tasked with picking up specimens from the dermatology clinic and delivering them safely to the pathology laboratory. As Mayo Clinic Laboratories states, “Specimens must be packed and shipped properly for accurate testing, which helps ensure that patients receive optimal treatment.”

To alleviate risk and ensure the highest diagnostic quality, couriers should be trained in safety and the handling of hazardous waste while complying with HIPAA and OSHA regulations. However, couriers can only transport specimens to local labs, sometimes limiting dermatology clinic access to only local dermatopathologists. Also, couriers typically don’t offer electronic tracking to keep clinics apprised of their location. 

Using medical material supply chain services from UPS and FedEx gives dermatology clinics easy access to respected pathology authorities outside of their region. This includes academic-level reads from the specialists at PathologyWatch, who can use digital pathology to collaborate with experts worldwide. UPS and FedEx offer advanced tracking, so clinics always know their patients’ samples’ exact location. With proven reliability and contingency plans, they provide reassurance that the specimens will reach the lab.

For optimal specimen tracking and security, clinics are recommended to create a tracking log of all specimens placed within a package. A copy of this log should be placed within the package as a shipping manifest. A vigilant laboratory will ask for this information, which will allow them to immediately verify the successful transportation of the specimens sent. If there is a discrepancy between the shipping manifest and the materials received, the clinic can be immediately notified, and the specimen can be recovered. While electronic orders can also help in this process, the best practice is to include a shipping manifest within the package.

Developing dependable supply management and specimen transportation to share tissue samples with the lab is critical in running a successful dermatology clinic. Having a reliable reserve of specimen containers, request forms, and shipping supplies, while understanding the advantages of different transportation options, can ensure specimens are packed and shipped correctly and safely for accurate testing.