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Practice managers should provide staff with guidelines on the correct management of specimens obtained during procedures for pathology examination, including collection, handling, labelling and documentation.

Correct management of specimens

Specimens obtained for pathology examination should be correctly managed in order to minimise any risk of an adverse event.

Many practices have an on-site, or a professional relationship with a, pathology service. The pathology service is an excellent resource for education and protocols for specimen collection and management.

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There are standard precautions or protocols that staff should follow when handling specimens.

Staff should be educated in the different types of specimens and methods of handling, as relevant. For example:

  • A specimen for assessment of potential infection may need to be placed.
  • culture medium, or possibly in a sterile container for immediate processing.
  • A fixed specimen is smeared on a slide and sprayed with a fixative (e.g. Pap smear).
  • A routine histopathology specimen will usually need to be placed in a container with a preservative (e.g. formalin) and sent to pathology within a certain period of time.

Staff should receive hazardous substance training to ensure formalin is handled safely and a spill kit should be available nearby.

There should be adequate supplies of appropriate specimen jars or slides for the intended list.


Correct labelling is critical on the specimen container, pathology request form, pathology record book and patient care form, as the results may determine further treatment for that patient. Labelling should include the patient’s name, UR/practice file number, gender, address, patient’s doctor, name of practice, date, time of specimen collection and anatomical labelling of specimen (e.g. left or right).

Specimen labelling should be checked by both the nurse and doctor involved in the procedure.


All specimens and pathology request forms should be placed in leak-proof containers and sealed in a biohazard specimen bag for transport. Potentially infectious specimens should be double bagged.

Transport of specimens should be organised promptly according to the pathology company requirements.

The treating medical practitioner should check all results prior to filing and follow up with the patient as appropriate (See Tracking Tests )

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Time planning
  • Finding enough hours in the day
  • Meetings
  • Appointment system
  • Improve your practice
  • References

This publication is proudly brought to you by Avant Mutual Group. The content was authored by Brett McPherson, reviewed by Colleen Sullivan and Avant Mutual Group.

This publication is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practice proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgment or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published. © Avant Mutual Group Limited 2014.

IMPORTANT: Professional indemnity insurance products and Avant’s Practice Medical Indemnity Policy are issued by Avant Insurance Limited, ABN 82 003 707 471, AFSL 238 765. The information provided here is general advice only. You should consider the appropriateness of the advice having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs before deciding to purchase or continuing to hold a policy with us. For full details including the terms, conditions, and exclusions that apply, please read and consider the policy wording and PDS, which is available at or by contacting us on 1800 128 268. Practices need to consider other forms of insurance including directors’ and officers’ liability, public and products liability, property and business interruption insurance, and workers compensation and you should contact your insurance broker for more information. Cover is subject to the terms, conditions and exclusions of the policy. Any advice here does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider whether the product is appropriate for you before deciding to purchase or continuing to hold a policy with us.