Context: Errors entering orders for send-out laboratory tests into computer systems waste health care resources and can delay patient evaluation and management.
Objectives: To determine (1) the accuracy of send-out test order entry under "real world" conditions and (2) whether any of several practices are associated with improved order accuracy.
Design: Representatives from 97 clinical laboratories provided information about the processes they use to send tests to reference facilities and their order entry and specimen routing error rates.
Results: In aggregate, 98% of send-out tests were correctly ordered and 99.4% of send-out tests were routed to the proper reference laboratory. There was wide variation among laboratories in the rate of send-out test order entry errors. In the bottom fourth of laboratories, more than 5% of send-out tests were ordered incorrectly, while in the top fourth of laboratories fewer than 0.3% of tests were ordered incorrectly. Order entry errors were less frequent when a miscellaneous test code was used than when a specific test code was used (3.9% vs 5.6%; P = .003).
Conclusions: Computer order entry errors for send-out tests occur approximately twice as frequently as order entry errors for other types of tests. Filing more specific test codes in a referring institution's information system is unlikely to reduce order entry errors and may make error rates worse.