Specimen Storage: 3 Things Lab Managers Should Start and Stop Doing

By: In: Healthcare On: Sep 15, 2015
Specimen Storage:  3 Things Lab Managers Should Start and Stop Doing

As organizations look to optimize for today’s resources and budget constrained environment, there are three things Lab Managers should move to Start and Stop doing as it relates to specimen storage:

Number 1:

  • Stop Associating Onsite With Free: Maybe you don’t get a monthly bill, but the resources and space required to manage specimens onsite are expensive. Furthermore, onsite carries with it real opportunity costs as G2 Intelligence articulates in its most recent whitepaper: “Although lab departments may not view in-house specimen storage as an expense, the broader organization does. Given an increasingly cost conscious environment due to declining reimbursements, organizations will be looking to identify opportunities for cost savings and increased revenue generation. This includes opportunities to more strategically allocate space and existing resources (dedicated to non-core onsite functions).”
  • Start Conducting a Cost/Value Analysis: Explore the true costs of your existing onsite storage program. Consider the real estate as well as resource line items on your company budget. Next, evaluate opportunity costs. Identify how and where the existing storage space and supporting resources might be reallocated to advance the top priorities.  For example, might the existing space be used to house new testing equipment or to support another critical function?  Lastly, estimate and evaluate future storage demand.  What will it cost you to add onsite space or acquire new space?  With this information, you’ll be able to compare the cost and value of onsite specimen storage against alternatives.

Number 2: 

  • Stop Reactively Battling to Storage Growth: Space is finite, but your specimen archives continue to grow.  Constantly shifting and moving specimens to different cabinets, rooms, departments or facilities, creates a routine headache, strains your employees bandwidth and introduces unnecessary risk into your storage program.  What’s more, it’s a temporary fix. Whether you proactively make the decision now or later, there will come a point where you are faced with one of two decisions:
    1. Take on the high cost of building out the proper storage environment or
    2. Outsource storage.
  • Start Proactively Shifting to a Scalable Model: According to a recent study, only about 10 percent of all of slides and blocks are recalled at some point and most requests come within the first 3 years of slide/ block storage. Continue to store only the most recent (and active specimen) onsite.  Centralize all other specimens with an offsite vendor that prepares the inventory for transport and provides pathology-specific storage environments that can easily scale to accommodate growing archives. This eliminates the “shift and move headache”, minimizes the risk of melting or degradation, and enables you to more strategically leverage your limited onsite people and real estate resources.

Number 3: 

  • Stop Viewing Storage Like a Necessary Evil: Labs retention policies often dictate that specimens be retained for ten years or more, and, though most have clear policies in place, few destroy aggressively upon the expiration of the retention period. As few specimens are destroyed and many more are produced, it is not uncommon for storage to spill over into multiple rooms, departments, and buildings. These spaces vary in quality. Some are uniquely constructed for specimen storage while others are nothing more than an open basement.  As a result, the specimens are exposed to varying degrees of risk and potential degradation.  In this scenario, labs absorb the full cost and risk of retaining the specimens beyond the retention period, but do not fully exploit the value.
  • Start Exploring Storage as a Potential Revenue Stream: Research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and biorepositories rely on access to specimen populations to secure grants and conduct mission critical research.  As demand for these specimens increase, labs are uniquely positioned to fulfill it.  Upon the expirations of the retention policy, “de-identified” specimens are eligible for sale.  Labs should move to explore this increasing demand as a new revenue stream.  However, in order to capitalize on this opportunity, labs will need to establish a storage infrastructure that consistently and effectively preserves specimen integrity. Criteria such as temperature monitoring, documented transportation, and handling processes will become increasing important as these things reduce likelihood of degradation.

Of course, all of these recommendations are easier said than done. Change is never easy. There is never enough budget to meet your goals.  There is never enough time. There is always another more pressing initiative that will eclipse all others. However, the longer labs maintain the status quo, the more costly and inefficient legacy processes will become.  By exploring these three “Stop” and “Start” recommendations, your lab can create a more manageable storage program that improves value and efficiency.

For more information, read the rest of the blogs in this series and the whitepaper Could Specimen Storage Outsourcing Help Labs Compete in Today’s Cost Conscious Environment?

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About the author

Michelle Urban

Michelle Urban is responsible for the product management and marketing of laboratory storage and workflow management solutions at Iron Mountain. She owns the development of specimen storage solutions from inception to execution, including market research and analysis, customer education and engagement, and go to market program development. In her previous role, Product Marketing Manager, Health Information Management, Michelle partnered with Linda Kloss, Founder of Kloss Strategic Advisors, to develop “Redefining the Role of Health Information Management in the New World of Information Governance,” a whitepaper that gained widespread popularity throughout the healthcare industry and even earned a coveted featured spot at the AHIMA National Conference 2014. Michelle earned her Bachelor’s Degree at Arcadia University and remains active in her local community through the Philadelphia Field Hockey Association (PFHA). She blogs on Health Information Management, Information Governance, Workflow Optimization, HIPAA Compliance, Specimen Storage, Good Laboratory Practices and BioRepositories. Follow me on Twitter @MichellePaster