Evaluating the connections between primary care practice and clinical laboratory testing: a review of the literature and call for laboratory involvement in the solutions

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2013 Jan;137(1):120-5. doi: 10.5858/arpa.2011-0555-RA.


Context: Growing evidence has demonstrated a high frequency of quality gaps in laboratory medicine, with recent studies estimating that 15% to 54% of primary care medical errors reported by primary care physicians and staff are related to the testing process. However, there is lack of evidence-based performance metrics in the preanalytic and postanalytic phases of the testing pathway for primary care practices.

Objective: To use results of the literature review to assist in the development of quality indicators that could improve preanalytic and postanalytic processes in primary care-based laboratory medicine.

Data sources: Literature in Ovid/MEDLINE from 2001 through 2011 was searched as a primary source of information. Ninety-five peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed publications were retrieved following title and abstract review and 10 articles were reviewed in their entirety by the authors. A systematic review of the literature was conducted regarding the connections between clinical laboratories and primary care offices and the resulting errors. Root causes of errors were categorized into 7 major themes: process failures, delays, communication gaps, errors in judgment and cognition, influence of minorities/language, practice culture, and lack of patient centeredness. Selected articles were evaluated for evidence quality using the Systematic Evidence Review and Evaluation Methods for Quality Improvement grading scale developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Conclusions: The focused literature review documented 7 key error themes in the laboratory medicine/primary care testing process. Performance metrics related to these themes are proposed that deserve future study for evidence-based improvement.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques* / standards
  • Delayed Diagnosis
  • Evidence-Based Practice / standards
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors
  • Patient Participation
  • Primary Health Care* / standards
  • Quality Improvement
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care