Hospitals and healthcare are at the cutting edge of technology. They bring to mind moments that have changed human history, such as the discovery of penicillin, the invention of the X-ray and the development of germ theory. So, it’s perhaps understandable that some of the other vital aspects of medical technology can end up flying under the radar.

Like, say, the humble label.

When we talk about medical supplies and technology, we typically think about stethoscopes, drugs and high-tech machines, but devices like wristband and label printers are crucial for accuracy and efficiency in patient identification and labelling of test samples. When you’re dealing with a profession where decisions can be life or death, clear and accurate information can literally save lives.

Keeping specimen collection secure

Specimen collection and analysis lies at the heart of many medical practices, ensuring the accuracy of such analysis is critical and errors can be fatal. Every potential source of error must be eliminated, and this begins well before analysis.

The Royal College of Pathologists of Australia notes in its guidelines ‘Specimen Labelling at Point of Collection that “Pathology specimens should meet defined standards of patient identification and specimen labelling to ensure that the chain of information custody from patient to sample to the laboratory to report is unbroken”.

There are two key elements to this: patient identification and specimen collection.

Patient identification

Patients must be positively identified before samples are taken. This identification may be spoken (i.e. the patient states their name and date of birth) but will often need to be supplemented by other information. This commonly includes a printed wristband containing a medical record number and other details.

Specimen collection

The guideline specifies that specimens should be collected into unlabelled containers, with identification added after collection has been completed. This is because pre-labelling containers are “an unacceptable practice that leads to an increase in the number of identification errors.”

Further, the guideline recommends against pre-printing labels, as there is always the possibility of applying the wrong label to a given sample – “an unsafe and unacceptable practice.”

In both cases, the need for fast, accurate and specialised printing devices is clear. They’re needed at the point of admission to ensure patients are given wristbands with clear and accurate information. And even more importantly, they’re needed when collecting specimens, so labels can be printed on demand.

The risks associated with inaccurate labelling are serious. As the guideline points out, “specimens failing to meet criteria for specimen acceptance were 40 times more likely to have a blood grouping discrepancy” – such discrepancies can be fatal. Fortunately, with a mature approach to labelling, they’re also preventable.

Medical-grade labelling

Of course, an easy-to-read, speedily printed-out label isn’t worth much if it’s not durable enough to still be legible after being handled, having various fluids spilt on it, or has the longevity required for storage in refrigeration or specific temperature requirements.

This is where label technology has perhaps come along in a most impressive fashion.

Healthcare environments can be hard on equipment, with heavy use, bodily fluids and strong chemicals all taking their toll. This makes it even more important to use labels that can withstand this wear and tear without having their legibility – and thus, the vital information they carry – compromised.

In short, while they’re easily overlooked, features of a label that are non-negotiable include durability against chemicals, abrasions and high temperatures – the kind of things that are likely to be factors either in patient care, assessing patient samples or creating the drugs that save lives.

While a consumer-grade label might give the necessary information when it’s first printed, Brother’s printed laminated tapes are abrasion, chemical and heat-resistant, making them tough enough to ensure critical information is always clear and easy to read.

So, it turns out that the ‘humble’ label (and its printer) is a mission-critical, high-tech piece of medical equipment. Clear, accurate and legible information is vital for any medical professional – it pays to ensure your printing and labelling solution won’t let you down.

Brother has a dedicated range of thermal and label printers certified by Cerner to meet the requirements of Australian medical clinics and hospitals. So how can we help you?

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