Managing patient expectations for home specimen collection


When patients are tasked with collecting specimens at home, the procedure can require special timing, collection steps, or storage conditions. If these aren’t clearly communicated to the patient beforehand, it can lead to confusion and unnecessary frustration. A laboratory can set up its patients for success, and thereby itself, by managing expectations when home collections are necessary.

The following is a list of recommended steps for laboratories interested in giving their patients a successful home specimen collection experience:

Prepare the patient ahead of time

Ensure your laboratory staff has sufficient training with scripting on all necessary instructions and answers to the most commonly asked questions. When the patient initially arrives with the test order, encourage staff to spend time with the patient, verbalizing the collection procedure instructions and answering the patient’s questions before they leave. An investment of time on the front end of the experience can save lost time later.

Pre-assemble the collection materials

For your most common home collection tests, have kits prepared so they are easy to hand out. If possible, provide the kits in discreet packaging to account for patients needing to leave and return with the specimen.

Pack the collection kits

In addition to the collection materials, the pre-assembled kits should contain a copy of collection instructions, frequently asked questions pertaining to their specific test, and a map of the hospital campus with indicators for the laboratory and the registration department. Also include a contact number for the laboratory in case the patient has questions or concerns during the collection procedure. Use a larger font and a general public reading level of eighth grade for ease of reading.

If you are in a multilingual community, have copies available in your most commonly spoken languages to ease the communication process for patients and frontline staff.

Make the paper version of the collection instructions available on your website in case the original copy is lost.

Patient instructions

Knowing the collection instructions will be used as a reference for the patient, consider including the following in the instructions.


Patient preparation

  • Are there certain foods or medications to avoid prior to collection?



  • Are any of the materials in the collection items corrosive, poisonous, etc.?


Collection timing

  • Does the specimen have to be returned within a certain time frame?
  • Can it be collected and returned over a weekend?
  • What is the latest time of day the test can begin?


Collection procedure

  • What is an acceptable container (if one wasn’t provided)?
  • Does a start and finish time need to be noted somewhere?
  • Does the specimen require special handling after collection (poured off, mixed, etc.)?



  • What is the required information to label the specimen container?
  • Where should it be documented?
  • Are there labels provided?



  • What is the acceptable storage temperature for the specimen?
  • How long can it be stored before it’s returned to the lab?



  • Can the specimen be placed back in the take-home packaging, or does it require something different?
  • Should an ice pack be included?



  • Where is the return location for specimens?
  • Is an appointment necessary?
  • Does the patient need to visit registration first? If so, under what circumstances?
  • Is there paperwork that must accompany the specimen?

Prompt specimen return process

Create an expedited process for patients to return specimens to the laboratory. Rather than requiring a full registration, perhaps have the laboratory staff perform a shortened account registration so the patient can be on their way faster. If a specimen is returned the same day, have the patient go directly to the laboratory with their specimen and bypass a new registration altogether. Develop a prompt specimen return process that does not require patients to wait in line behind onsite collections.

With ample patient resources, staff training, and proactive processes, you can manage your patients’ expectations of home specimen collections and create a positive experience with your laboratory services.

Brianne Newton, MS, MT(ASCP)

Brianne Newton joined the Outreach Team in March of 2022 and lives in the North Texas area. Over the past 20 years, she has served in various laboratory roles including: laboratory section supervisor, MLT program director, and lab outreach manager. She also led her organization’s laboratory services through the COVID-19 pandemic as the corporate laboratory director. When not working with outreach clients, she enjoys travel photography, reading, and Tex-Mex. She is married with twin daughters.