Skip to Content

SPECIMEN COLLECTION AND PROCESSING PROCEDURES

Proper specimen procurement and handling is an integral part of obtaining a valid and timely laboratory test result. Specimens must be obtained in the proper tubes or containers, correctly labeled and promptly transported to the laboratory.

OBTAINING RELIABLE AND ACCURATE LABORATORY TEST RESULTS

Physicians and others responsible for obtaining specimens and transporting them to the laboratory have a vital role in ensuring that laboratory test results are valid. The following are essential safeguards for your patients.

1. Avoid Patient Identification Errors

Use at least two patient identifiers when administering medications, blood, or blood components; when collecting blood samples and other specimens for clinical testing; and when providing treatments or procedures. The patient's room number or physical location is not used as an identifier.

Label containers used for blood and other specimens in the presence of the patient.

--Joint Commission National Patient Safety Goal 1, Elements of Performance, 2013.

Identify the patient prior to collecting a sample. Check armbands. Acceptable identifiers may include: patient’s full name, date of birth, or medical record number. 

2. Draw the tubes in the proper sequence

When multiple tubes are to be drawn from a single venipuncture using an evacuated tube system (e.g. BD Vacutainer® or Greiner Vacuette®), there is a correct sequence for blood collection. This prevents cross-contamination of tube additives that could cause erroneous test results. The following should be used for both plastic and glass blood collection tubes.

The order of draw:

  1. Blood culture
  2. Coagulation tube (blue top) (1)
  3. Serum tube with or without clot activator, with or without gel (red top)
  4. Heparin tube with or without gel plasma separator (green top)
  5. EDTA (purple top, pink top)
  6. Oxalate and fluoride (gray top)
  7. Other special tubes

(1) All blue tops collected for coagulation assays which do not have a blood culture collected first must have a discard tube collected prior to filling. Discard tube should be another blue top in which greater than 1 mL of blood is collected.

All tubes must be gently inverted 10 times end-to-end immediately after collection.

3. Use proper containers for collection

Certain analyses require containers with preservative and/or anticoagulants, while others do not. Using the wrong container often leads to erroneous results. See Test Catalog for exact requirements.

4. Mix all tubes ten times by gentle inversion immediately after collection

5. Do not decant specimens from one type of container into another

Specimens must be submitted to the laboratory in the container used originally for collection.

6. Deliver specimens to the laboratory promptly

Valid measurement of analytes in serum or plasma requires prompt separation from the blood cells. When left unseparated, analytes shift between the cells and the plasma or serum and glucose is consumed. Some analytes are unstable at room temperature. Drawing extra tubes of blood on patients and holding them as a contingency against some unforeseen need for more tests can lead to erroneous results and is a dangerous practice that should be avoided.

Specimens drawn off campus

Red top tubes must stand for 30 minutes to allow complete clotting, must then be centrifuged, and the serum separated and refrigerated until delivered to the laboratory. Check specific test information in this manual to determine if serum should be frozen.

Purple top tubes for CBCs may be kept at room temperature for up to 8 hours. After 8 hours, refrigerate until delivery. Stable 36 hours refrigerated. For tests drawn in purple top tubes other than CBCs, check specific test stability.

Green top tube handling depends on the specific test ordered. Check specific test directions.

Laboratory Specimen Storage Temperature Requirements

Storage Method

Centigrade (Celsius) Temperature Range

Refrigerated

2 - 8 º C

Frozen

less than or equal to -20 º C

Room/ Ambient

20 – 25 º C

7. Avoid hemolysis

Erythrocytes contain certain analytes (LD, AST, K, ALT) in concentration many times higher than in the plasma. When red cells are hemolyzed, there is release of these analytes and dilution of plasma resulting in erroneous laboratory values. Also, hemolysis may interfere in analytical methodologies.

8. Drawing samples from a line

If sample is to be drawn from a line, be sure to draw approximately 5-10 mL for adults in a first “flush” syringe (20 mL to clear any heparin from the line if coagulation tests are desired). Then draw the syringe for the desired tests.  The “flush” may be given back to the patient if needed.

9. Specimen collection for Cryoglobulin testing

Due to the location of the lab in the Leprino Office Building and it being quite a distance from the AIP and AOP it is recommended thatinfant heel warmers be used to collect specimens for Cryoglobulin testing as an alternative to heating blocks. Using an infant heel warmer (Lawson #12038) will maintain the required temperature of Cryoglobulin specimens for 30 minutes (15 minutes longer than heating blocks). Heating blocks will no longer be available.

Procedure :

  1. Wrap an infant heel warmer around two 6 mL red top tubes with needle to be used for phlebotomy. Secure items together for 5 minutes.
  2. Use the pre-warmed needle to collect pre-warmed 6 mL red top tubes.
  3. Once collected, wrap the two 6 mL red top tubes with the infant heel warmer, secure and send to the lab via pneumatic tube system.
  4. NOTE: The heel warmers are effective up to 30 minutes. If unable to perform collection and delivery to lab within this time frame, use a new heel warmer.
  5. If you have any questions, feel free to call the Clinical Laboratory, x86947.