Chain of Custody

Why automation matters when it comes to patient safety and efficiency in tracking medial samples


October 2021 – The Journal of Healthcare Contracting


As Senior Technical Director, Histopathology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Denise Bland knows the importance of the work her department does tracking medical samples, and the need for reliable systems and equipment to do her job. With a chain of custody process, lab technicians in clinical laboratories are considered the responsible custodians of those materials. As a critical component of the healthcare system, an unbroken chain of custody ensures the integrity of and validity of those samples.

“In today’s world, going back years or even decades to test on those blocks is not uncommon,” she said. “There are state regulations and federal regulations governing that we be responsible custodians of this tissue for the patients, while improving our process on an annual basis to ensure that we are doing what we can to retain these valuable assets.”

Bland discussed the importance of chain of custody for healthcare systems and how the right equipment can simplify those processes in a recent industry webinar.

Maintaining standards

By instituting a chain of custody process for tracking and documenting patient samples, you are ensuring accountability and traceability, Bland said. A well-maintained chain of custody process starts from the time that the material was collected and continues through every step of testing and analysis in the facility. However, many modern healthcare systems are using antiquated processes and tools to track samples, which can create problems with efficiency and organization within clinical labs.

Maintaining chain of custody standards for large healthcare systems can be extremely challenging, even with a solid process in place. Massachusetts General Hospital’s lab was using a manual process that complicated the chain of custody. “It was a very laborious system. It left room for error, because there wasn’t a lot of traceability and accountability. I’ve wanted automation for a while, but I hadn’t seen a system that I thought was truly going to meet all our needs.”

When Epredia™, a precision cancer diagnostics company, and its distributer, Fisher Healthcare, offered Bland a demo of the Arcos™ management system, she saw exactly what it could do for her lab right away. “We were early adopters, and it’s exactly what we wanted.” Arcos block management and ArcosSL™ slide management systems help labs minimize errors, increase productivity and keep the laboratory’s resources focused on the patients.

After implementing Arcos for her lab, Bland noticed a vast improvement in the functionality of her processes. “Since I started using Arcos, I haven’t lost a single asset,” she said. “So far, Arcos has been foolproof. No system prior to Arcos has been foolproof.”

Implementing an automated tool

Automation is designed to improve outcomes and simplify daily processes, but it also allows laboratories like the one Bland works in to improve the chain of custody. She said, “One thing that we do here is you need to collaborate with the pathologist because that helps maintain chain of custody. As the gatekeeper, you must go through me. Having automation allows me to be a much stronger gatekeeper than a manual process.”

Arcos automates the archiving and retrieval of tissue blocks and slides, ensuring deeper security for the chain of custody. With enhanced traceability and smart storage for patient materials, Arcos is built to simplify.