Surgical specimen management: A descriptive study of 648 adverse events and near misses

Victoria M. Steelman*, Tamara L. Williams, Marilyn K. Szekendi, Amy L. Halverson, Suzanne M. Dintzis, Stephen Pavkovic

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Context. - Surgical specimen adverse events can lead to delays in treatment or diagnosis, misdiagnosis, reoperation, inappropriate treatment, and anxiety or serious patient harm. Objectives. - To describe the types and frequency of event reports associated with the management of surgical specimens, the contributing factors, and the level of harm associated with these events. Design. - A retrospective review was undertaken of surgical specimen adverse events and near misses voluntarily reported in the University HealthSystem Consortium Safety Intelligence Patient Safety Organization database by more than 50 health care facilities during a 3-year period (2011-2013). Event reports that involved surgical specimen management were reviewed for patients undergoing surgery during which tissue or fluid was sent to the pathology department. Results. - Six hundred forty-eight surgical specimen events were reported in all stages of the specimen management process, with the most common events reported during the prelaboratory phase and, specifically, with specimen labeling, collection/preservation, and transport. The most common contributing factors were failures in handoff communication, staff inattention, knowledge deficit, and environmental issues. Eight percent of the events (52 of 648) resulted in either the need for additional treatment or temporary or permanent harm to the patient. Conclusions. - All phases of specimen handling and processing are vulnerable to errors. These results provide a starting point for health care organizations to conduct proactive risk analyses of specimen handling procedures and to design safer processes. Particular attention should be paid to effective communication and handoffs, consistent processes across care areas, and staff training. In addition, organizations should consider the use of technology-based identification and tracking systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1390-1396
Number of pages7
JournalArchives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Medical Laboratory Technology


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