Typical comments about chain of custody forms:
“DUDE! You can’t send environmental samples to a lab without a paper chain of custody form inside of the cooler. That’s like…illegal or something.”
“if you don’t put a paper chain of custody inside of the cooler, how is the lab gonna know what tests to run on the samples, and which company sent them in?”
Use a sample custody seal instead
Well, have you ever heard of custody seals? You know, those stickers that all of us environmental scientists and geologists have used that go on the outside of a cooler that would indicate if a cooler seal was broken? Did you know that you can write stuff on those stickers? Like the CoC ID #, a unique number that corresponds to an electronic chain of custody record that describes in detail what is inside the contents of that cooler?
That’s what we tell folks that use EnviroChain for environmental sample chain of custody control: Write down the CoC ID# on the custody seal, stick it on the front or top of the cooler, and you are done. When the shipment arrives at the lab, the lab techs responsible for sample login will know what is INSIDE the cooler without even cracking it open. I know. Genius!
It’s a tiny change, yet a hugely profound one at the same time. Sometimes it’s the little things that matter most. This is especially true at larger labs, where the login area is very busy in the mornings when the FedEx trucks arrive. The sample login department of a lab—or cooler delivery area—is commonly referred to as the sample triage area because of the critical tasks that need to immediately be taken upon arrival of a new sample.
Here’s the typical daily workflow of what occurs at the sample triage area:
- Upon first arrival, EVERY.SINGLE.COOLER is cracked open, a tech hurriedly fishes for the CoC inside—this paper form is usually stored inside 2 very wet ziploc baggies— then proceeds to unfold the CoC carefully without getting it wet and smearing the ink, and then studies the chicken scratch on the paper form to see if any of the samples in that cooler contain any short hold time analyses or rush samples.
- Then cooler sorting occurs. Imagine a dude pointing a finger in one of two directions: coolers containing short hold times or rush samples go to that side of the room, the other coolers go to the other side. This is done so that rush samples and short hold time analyses are not missed, which can be hugely expensive mistakes borne out by the lab: for example, when a lab screws up and samples are analyzed outside of the hold times, consultant gets pissed off, lab takes the blame and eats the analytical charges. Consultant then needs to explain this in their report to their client. This.happens.all.the.time.
- After sorting is done, the coolers in the “high priority” pile get processed first, followed by the “standard” pile of coolers. The ziploc baggies containing the CoC forms are pulled out of the wet cooler, and data is entered manually into the LIMS, line by line. Sometimes this data entry might take a few minutes, and sometimes it might take more than 30 minutes per CoC. It depends upon several factors, including the # of samples in the shipment, the complexity and understanding of what analyses have been requested, and even how legible the text on the paper form is.
Knowing critical sample info the day BEFORE sample arrival
Well, wouldn’t it make sense to know this stuff a whole day in advance, without having to crack each cooler open and fish for a folded up CoC inside freezing cold water and ice, just to know into which pile the cooler should go? Wouldn’t it help to know this a whole day before the cooler arrives at the lab, so that the lab can be fully prepared instead of guessing? And wouldn’t it make sense to only need to check the contents of what is inside the cooler against what is already automatically inserted into the LIMS, without having to spend payroll dollars on a lab tech to decipher the handwritten CoC and type it in manually, mistakes and all? I mean, seriously, this is not rocket science. This is logical and common sense stuff that any industry looking for efficiency would eagerly try.
Well, welcome to the environmental industry, where common sense stuff just isn’t that common, unfortunately. Here we are in almost 2016 and we are still using a 1990’s era process for chain of custody forms in the environmental industry. It makes no sense. Sometimes I hear from folks “…well, the environmental industry is really unique.” Ummm, no, it’s not. Seriously, it’s not.
No more unique than any other industry
The environmental industry is no more unique than the medical field, or any other field for that matter. An example: Remember when doctors scribbled something on a prescription pad, and then you took this nearly-illegible hand-written paper prescription to a pharmacist, who sometimes had trouble understanding what the doctor wrote down? When was the last time you saw a hand-written prescription or hand-carried one to your pharmacist? Three to five years ago, maybe? In the healthcare industry, when it came to adoption of electronic medical prescriptions and e-records, doctors put up a huge fight for a long time. But nowadays, nearly every doctor in the US submits their prescriptions electronically to your pharmacy of choice instead of scribbling it down on a piece of paper. And the few that are not doing it this way are disappearing really fast.
So what are you waiting for? Why not give electronic chain of custody forms a try? Like e-records in healthcare, e-CoCs are the future for environmental sample chain of custody control, whether you believe it or not. And EnviroChain is leading the way by a wide margin. No other e-CoC comes close to what EnviroChain does right out of the box, today. If you are a lab, take a closer look at what electronic chain of custody control can do for your workflow bottlenecks, before the other labs figure this out and beat you to it.