What the Patient Considers When Choosing a Laboratory


Clinical laboratory tests provide essential data needed for healthcare providers to make appropriate decisions and care for patients. From preventive care to diagnosing acute and critical illnesses, to managing chronic diseases, individuals are guaranteed to need laboratory tests at some point in their lives.

There are a range of scenarios that may occur when a provider orders a laboratory test for a patient. If the patient can have blood drawn before leaving their provider’s office, the transaction is seamless: orders are placed, the billing system is integrated, and the laboratory results populate in the patient's medical record when the testing is complete. However, some provider practices do not offer this service, or the phlebotomy draw station hours are reduced.

When a patient must take that extra step to visit an off-site laboratory, the practice should provide information to assist patients in finding suitable draw site locations. For ease, the information can be printed in advance or accessible in the online patient portal. Whenever possible, patients should be encouraged to choose their community hospital laboratory where they have established care. The benefits of this are plentiful: laboratory revenue stays in the system; laboratory results are integrated in the hospital medical record; the provider is instantly notified when results are complete and critical; the provider can communicate with the patient through the portal; and results can be tracked and trended.

Just as patients can choose a physician, they can choose a laboratory that suits their needs. There are many factors that will lead to their laboratory choice, including referrals, reputation, and proximity. Below are a few experience-based factors that may be considered, too.


Patients who are coming to the community laboratory for testing do not want to spend more time looking for a parking space than it takes to get their blood drawn. Many organizations have dedicated “lab draw patients only” parking spots available. If there is a remote community hospital laboratory location that has easier parking and less patient wait time, patients should be made aware. If there is capacity at a physician service center, the phlebotomists might consider drawing unaffiliated patients to broaden the access and brand of the organization.

Appointment types

Some health systems offer a hybrid model of appointment types. One site may be “appointments only,” while another site may offer appointments and a few “drop-in” appointments. There are variables to consider when choosing appointment types.

  • Appointment with a set time: Patients can plan when to arrange their blood draw based on their personal schedule for the day. This model is efficient, but patients may arrive early, late, or “no show.” This variability can impact a defined schedule.
  • Drop-in, anytime: Patients arrive when they can with no planning or advance notice to the laboratory. Although this is convenient to the patient, at certain popular times of day, the number of patients can exceed the staff availability. Patient wait times will increase and patient satisfaction will decrease.

Waiting room experience

Once the patient has checked in at registration, the patient’s internal clock starts. They notice who arrives before and after them. Behind the scenes, the laboratory team verifies orders, prepares tubes, checks with doctors who have written unclear orders, looks for standing orders, and makes other preparations. Meanwhile, the patient waits.

It is essential to let patients know why they are waiting while others go ahead. Keeping the patient updated builds trust and relieves anxiety for the patient. Additionally, distractions can prevent the patient from checking their watch in frustration. Television monitors can be used to highlight thoughtful information about the laboratory.

Specimens to collect at home

  • Supplies: Patients often need to come to the laboratory to collect supplies for specimens that need to be collected at home (for example, 24-hour urine jugs or stool collection kit). There should be an easy process for the patient to pick up supplies.
  • Drop off: Patients will need to drop off the home-collected specimens. They should be given clear instructions on where to drop off the specimen and a bag so that their privacy is maintained. 
  • Logistics: If the patient needs to wait to pick up supplies and wait when they drop off the specimen, their satisfaction may be impacted. If they also had trouble with parking, waited in a long registration line, or waited in a queue with folks having blood drawn, this all detracts from the patient’s experience. To solve this dissatisfier, some organizations provide a special window for only supply pick-up and drop-off that bypasses the routine patient phlebotomy waiting queues. 

Patients want to use a laboratory that is easy to work with, and there are different definitions of “easy.” Ultimately, health systems want to have the patients they serve use their health system laboratories. If patients are choosing to go elsewhere, the laboratory should consider and respond to these patient experience factors.

Ellen Dijkman Dulkes

Ellen Dijkman Dulkes is an Outreach Solutions Strategist for MCL. She is a medical technologist and has over 35 years of progressive professional growth within the laboratory. She enjoys meeting new people and helping laboratories to grow their outreach business.