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HomeReference Lab Services > Clinical Testing > How to Send a Specimen

How to Send a Specimen

When submitting specimens to the University of Washington, Department of Laboratory Medicine, please complete a test order form and a supplemental testing form (if applicable) and send with the specimen(s).

For information, assistance, or for pre-addressed labels, call (206) 685-6066 or (800) 713-5198.


Labeling Specimens

  • Please affix patient label vertically with the last name closer to the top end of the tube.
  • Label or tag each specimen with at least patient name and/or unique I.D. number, and laboratory of origin, corresponding to the request form.
  • Use dark, indelible ink. Be sure label or tag is secure.
  • Use a separate request form for each specimen type or clearly mark specimen types on form.

All specimens must be properly labeled to ensure patient safety and prevent errors in patient diagnosis and treatment based on mis-identified labels.

Mislabeled Specimens

Mislabeled/Unlabeled specimens will be rejected by UW Reference Laboratory Services Services.

Mislabeled specimens include:

  • Specimens that are not labeled
  • Specimens labeled with a patient name and/or patient identification number different from that on the accompanying laboratory request form.
  • Specimens drawn from correct patient but labeled with wrong name and identification number.
  • Specimens that have labels and requisitions that agree but have been drawn from the wrong patient.

Whenever a specimen is mislabeled Reference Laboratory Services area will notify the ordering location of the error and request a new specimen. Re-labeling will not be allowed except in the extremely rare instances where it may cause undue risk to the patient (e.g., CSF from lumbar puncture, tissues from a biopsy, or other similarly obtained irreplaceable sample). For these rare cases a clinical pathologist or designee will have to approve the request.

Read our Policy on Mislabeled/Unlabeled specimens>>

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Shipping Policies

To avoid specimen rejection because of improper handling and degradation in transit, please follow the specimen requirement instructions in the test menu section of this guide. Any questions should be directed to Reference Laboratory Services (206) 685-6066 or (800) 713-5198. All specimens must be bagged for handling. The request forms must be in a separate compartment or bag.

Ambient Temperature Specimens

These specimens do not require special temperature conditions, but should not be allowed to freeze. However, safe specimen transport guidelines must be followed when specimens are submitted.

Clinical Specimens & Biological Substances

Any human or animal material, including but not limited to, excreta, secreta, blood and its components, tissue and tissue fluids, being shipped for diagnostic or investigational purposes must be packaged and shipped correctly. To determine the proper packaging, see Transport and Packaging of Specimens [52k pdf*] for details. All specimens prepared for transport to the University of Washington Medical Center or Harborview Medical Center should follow these general instructions. Please follow the appropriate directions whether you intend to use our courier, the bus, airfreight, or mail services (clients should follow any additional guidelines established by the U.S. Postal Service or commercial carrier they are using for safe transport of biological specimens). All specimens should be considered bio-hazardous and handled accordingly.

NOTE: OSHA requires that all shipments containing clinical specimens be marked with a "Biohazard" label. Labeled bags for shipments sent to Reference Laboratory Services will be provided on request. Containers for shipping are also available through Reference Laboratory Services (206) 685-6066 or (800) 713-5198, upon request.

Frozen Specimens

Certain specimens must be shipped frozen to maintain stability of the analyte. Containers should be filled with dry ice to prevent samples from thawing in case of shipping delays. Request slip(s) and specimen(s) should be shipped in separate plastic bags. Specimens should be shipped in containers that have been tested and are known to keep samples frozen for at least 48 hours. Do not ship frozen specimens in glass containers unless specified under specimen requirements.

Mark the outside of the container: FROZEN MATERIAL - DO NOT THAW


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Packaging and Transport

As of March 1, 2003 we would like all clients sending specimens to us to adopt a uniform specimen packaging procedure. In order to insure the safety of our couriers, and to make our processing workflow as streamlined and trouble-free as possible, we ask that you follow these guidelines:

  • All specimens should be contained in sealed plastic specimen bags.
  • The specimen bags should display the Biohazard logo
  • Each specimen bag should contain enough absorbant material to contain all of the contents of specimen tubes in case of breakage.
  • Each specimen bag should contain only ONE patient's specimen(s)
  • Each specimen should be accompanied by the corresponding requisition sheet, folded and placed in the outside pocket of the specimen bag.

We will provide ziplock specimen bags upon request. To order bags, please call (206) 598 6066.

Refrigerated Specimens

For refrigerated specimens, use the same Styrofoam mailing container as is provided for frozen specimens. Request slip(s) and specimen(s) should be shipped in separate plastic bags. Place on a coolant pack and fill the vacant space with any type of packaging material. We request that coolant packs be shipped in plastic bags.

Mark the outside of the container: REFRIGERATED MATERIAL - DO NOT FREEZE

Radioactive Specimens

Specimens which contain radioisotopes will be accepted for testing only when prior arrangements have been made and the specimens are clearly labeled so as to identify the contaminating isotope, the dose and compound administered to the patient, and the date of administration. To minimize hazards, specimens which are very "hot", e.g. those taken immediately after ablative therapy, may be held until they are less radioactive or they may be analyzed by methods which are not routine in our laboratories. Such options will be discussed with you when you make arrangements to send the specimen.

Courier Services

About Courier Service (Autumn 2007, Profiles in Laboratory Medicine)>>

Courier service is provided at no charge* in the areas near Auburn, Bellevue, Bellingham, Bothell, Edmonds, Everett, Kent, Kirkland, Mt. Vernon, Olympia, Renton, Seattle, and Tacoma. The courier route includes bus and air freight depots. Stops are made at the Sea-Tac Airport as needed. To schedule a pickup, please telephone us. Stops are made at Greyhound Bus Terminal in the morning and afternoon, Monday through Friday. See Transport & Packaging of Specimens [52k pdf*].

There is no STAT courier service.

All fees incurred for specimen transport other than via our courier service are the responsibility of the patient/sending location.

* Please contact the Reference Laboratory Services office at (206) 685-6066 or 1 800 713-5198 if you intend to use our courier service for nondepartmental delivery.

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Shipping Addresses

Routine specimens for ANY departmental laboratory (including Virology, Toxicology, Immunology, Microbiology, etc.) may be sent to:

  • UW Medicine
  • Department of Laboratory Medicine
  • 1959 NE Pacific St, NW 220
  • Seattle, WA 98195
  • Tel: (206) 685-6066 or 1 (800) 713-5198

For packages sent by BUS or PLANE, and needing to be picked up, please add:
Call on Arrival (206) 598-6224

It is recommended that you notify the Reference Laboratory Services Office (206) 685-6066 or 1-800-713-5198, 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, prior to sending packages by bus or plane. At times outside of these hours, please call the laboratory directly at (206) 598-6224.

Toxicology STATS:

Because some of our laboratories are in separate locations, STAT toxicology specimens may be shipped directly to Harborview Medical Center.

Please call (206) 731-3451 before shipping STAT specimens.

  • Harborview Medical Center
  • Clinical Laboratory, Room GWH47
  • 325 9th Avenue
  • Seattle, WA 98104
  • Call on Arrival - (206) 731-3451 RUSH
  1. Please do not send specimens to this address.
  2. Please be sure to mark STAT or RUSH on the outside of the package as well as on the request form.
  3. Please be sure to include the telephone number on the outside of the package.

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Billing Queries

Correspondence or billing may be sent via First Class Mail to:

  • Reference Laboratory Services
  • Department of Laboratory Medicine
  • P.O. Box 15290
  • Seattle, WA 98115-0246

  • For information, assistance, or for pre-addressed labels, call (206) 685-6066 or (800) 713-5198.

Read our billing policy>>

Also check out our Specimen Collection Guide.


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