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Stepwise Success

Can You Read Expiration Dates?

Published March 25, 2013 6:02 AM by Scott Warner

A common task we are expected to perform is checking expiration dates on reagents, controls, and other dated materials. Boxes are crowded with different languages, vials are smaller, and eyesight fades with age. I remember vividly the moment when I couldn’t immediately adjust between a crossword puzzle and the wall clock.

What if we miss a date? Suppose, for example, a vial of blood bank reagent has expired a few days and the techs just misread the date, the date was covered by a received sticker, or it’s just one of those things. People are human and make these kinds of mistakes. It’s improbable that several techs in a row would make the same error of omission, but we should expect that, too.

There are three common reactions:

  • Blame. It’s easy to blame the techs who didn’t read the expiration date correctly, but this ignores the inevitability of human error in a system that relies on the myth of consistent human performance.
  • Oh, well, it happens. The other extreme is attributing this kind of event to human error and shrugging it off. While probably apt, it isn’t a response that prevents a future error from happening.
  • Just work harder. This event can be added to a list of reminders at lab meetings, posted in a memo, or written in a policy as something to be avoided. But people don’t forget because they don’t work hard; they forget because human memory is fallible.

Tasks like checking expiration dates are subject to “self control” as I blogged recently; they depend on people developing religious habits. But a fourth possibility is using the system to help self-correct any errors of omission.

Expiration date reminders, for example, can easily be added to an Outlook calendar. These can pop up and ding at a workstation to alert the techs. (A paper calendar works, too!) The website IFTTT (If This Then That) can text, page, or email reminders that reagent will expire.

Good thing computer screens are bigger. Some of that print is wicked hard to read.

NEXT: Is Scripting Bad?


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About this Blog

    Scott Warner, MLT(ASCP)
    Occupation: Laboratory Manager
    Setting: Critical Access Hospital
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