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The Different Types Of Labels Used By Healthcare Facilities

November 10, 2021
By Ashley Stewart and Ben Kaplan

There are many different types of labels used by healthcare facilities. This article will break down the different types of labels and their applications from preprinted barcode labels to blank print on demand options.

The Healthcare Industry Relies on Labels to Manage Its Data and Processes

Medical labs use labels to keep track of the enormous amount of data that flows through their systems on a daily basis. Labels are a lab’s best friend because they help with managing and organizing data in an easily retrievable way, can be made with chemical resistant coatings to perform in harsh lab conditions, can be preprinted with specific customizations or offered blank for easy on demand printing, and for their simplicity. The numerous options means that there are many different types of labels used by healthcare facilities for different reasons. This article will help break down the different types and applications for you.

Why do healthcare facilities and medical labs use labels?

Every slide, vial and specimen that is collected and analyzed by any lab relies on a robust database and labeling system to be accurately encoded with all the relevant information about that item so it can be tracked throughout the process from collection to testing to diagnosis. Further, all that information about what the sample is, when it was collected, who it belongs to and so much more needs to be securely stored to protect patient privacy and easily retrievable by lab staff for testing and reporting purposes.

Medical Lab Slide Labels

Different Types of Labels Used by Healthcare Facilities and Medical Labs

Pre-Printed Labels

Preprinted labels are a great solution for frequently repeated tasks or actions. Medical labs use large quantities of preprinted labels particularly in sample collection and diagnostic testing activities.

Sequentially Numbered Barcode Labels

The most common and easiest way to manage the data is to use sequentially numbered barcode labels, of which there are several types. These labels can be applied to anything that needs to be tracked, including diagnostic slides, sample vials, equipment, documents and more, and are frequently used in specimen processing. Medical lab and healthcare facilities will choose a label type based on their unique labeling needs and the equipment they use to process and read the data encoded in those labels. Here are the most common types of barcode labels used by healthcare and medical professionals:

Preprinted Sequentially Numbered Barcode Labels for healthcare facilities and medical labs
  • Common linear barcode labels
    • Code 128
    • Code 3/9
  • 2D barcodes – square barcodes
  • Imagers (7 over 7 Numbers)
  • Human readable consecutive numbers – labels that are not scanned by a machine, but instead deciphered by a human

Learn more about sequentially numbered barcode labels here.

Blank Labels

Some medical labs and healthcare facilities prefer the flexibility of custom printing their own labels onsite as they are needed using blank labels. To do this, the facility needs to have either a thermal transfer label printer or a direct thermal label printer. Both are effective options but differ slightly in how they print labels. More importantly the labels for each differ in the types of applications and environments in which they perform best. Let’s dive into both options.

Thermal Transfer Labels

Thermal transfer labels are printed by a process in which a resin or wax ribbon is heated and applied to the label by the printer. It essentially functions as the ink that renders the information or design onto the label. Thermal transfer labels are a popular option for applications in particularly harsh conditions. They can be chemical resistant to xylene, a common chemical used in the processing of samples in pathology, histology and cytology labs. Using chemical resistant thermal transfer labels ensures that the data encoded on the label will maintain readability and avoid degradation after exposure to such harsh chemicals. The primary downside to this type of label is that it requires a ribbon in order to print, so you will need to refill labels and ribbons periodically to continue to print the labels. 

Thermal Transfer Labels and Ribbon for on demand printing at healthcare facilities and medical labs
Direct Thermal Labels

Direct thermal labels use a slightly different method for printing labels onsite. This type of label has a special type of heat sensitive material that is run under a thermal print head within the printer and changes color based on the heat it is exposed to during the printing process. This special printing method allows the printer to apply any design or data to the labels it prints by applying heat to the surface of the label. This type of printing is particularly appealing to some as it requires very low maintenance. There are no ribbons to refill or other types of ink to worry about. Simply load direct thermal labels into the printer and its ready to go. The challenge with this type of label is it typically has a shorter shelf life before the ink might degrade and does not perform well in caustic chemical environments. Due to this limitation, these labels are more frequently used for paperwork, shipping labels and other applications that are not exposed to harsh environments.

Direct Thermal Labels

How Do Medical Labs Use Labels?

Every time a patient sample is collected or received by a lab or healthcare facility it will apply some sort of label to ensure the sample can be easily cataloged and tracked throughout the testing and diagnostic process. Sequentially numbered barcode labels are one of the most popular labels used by the healthcare industry because they can be universally used and encoded with any type of data collected by labs and other facilities. However, one key consideration for sequentially numbered barcode labels is that most facilities need to start a new numbering sequence at the start of each new calendar year. When ordering your new batch, its best to get ahead of the year end rush by ordering labels in Q3 or early Q4 to ensure you can get your labels delivered by January 1st. 

Contact the Label Arts Team Today

Working with the Label Arts team is quick and easy. A short conversation with our knowledgeable team will help us understand your specific needs so we can solve your unique challenges. We want to work with you to remove all pain points from your labeling processes. Its our mission to delivery the highest quality chemical resistant labels for medical labs with our flawless identification guarantee.

Contact us today to get started with a comprehensive assessment of your needs. If you already know what you need, we can help you place your order within minutes! Give us a chance to be your label supplier for all the different types of labels used by healthcare facilities and medical labs! 

Doing Business With Label Arts

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Wondering whether we could accommodate your unique project needs? Simply ask. It’s very likely we will.


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