Incomplete laboratory request forms: the extent and impact on critical results at a tertiary hospital in South Africa

Ann Clin Biochem 2008;45:463-466
© 2008 Association for Clinical Biochemistry


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Original Articles

Louise Nutt,
Annalise E Zemlin and
Rajiv T Erasmus

Division of Chemical Pathology, National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), Tygerberg Hospital, Stellenbosch University, Parow 7505, South Africa

Corresponding author: Dr Louise Nutt. Email: lnutt{at}

Background: Research has demonstrated that most laboratory errors occurin the preanalytical phase of testing. In view of the paucityof studies examining preanalytical errors, we evaluated ourlaboratory request forms for the frequency and impact of incompletedata.

Methods: This study examined all request forms received at our laboratoryduring a five-day period. The forms were scrutinized for thepresence of specific parameters. The impact of abbreviated diagnoseswas analysed, as well as how lack of ward or telephone detailsaffects the communication of critical results to clinicians.

Results: A total of 2550 request forms were analysed. Medication(s) usedby the patient (89.6%) and doctor’s contact number (61.2%)were the most incomplete parameters. No diagnosis was providedon 19.1% of forms, and when a diagnosis was present it was anabbreviated form in 37.3%. This resulted in 35.5% of diagnosesnot being recorded by reception staff. Incomplete ward informationwas found on 4.9% of forms. In a separate search, the impactof 151 request forms (collected over a period of eight months),with incomplete ward location information and correspondingto critical results was assessed. Critical results were notcommunicated by telephone to clinicians in 19.9% of cases.

Conclusion: As laboratory data influences 70% of medical diagnoses, incorrector incomplete data provided to the laboratory could significantlyimpact the success and cost of overall treatment.

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