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Collection Sites, Laboratories and Third Party Organizations--what's the Difference?
By Mike Grosh and Steve Barber

If your organization has decided to do drug screens, you're going to have to have to make the arrangements for it with somebody. That "somebody" is either going to be a collection site or clinic, direct through a laboratory or with a Third Party Organization. So is one type of organization better than the other? It depends. Let's take a look at all three.

Collection Site or Clinic
Collection sites are most commonly affiliated with medical clinics. As such, they are usually staffed by well-trained employees who have been schooled in the proper collection and handling of drug screen specimens. Their function is to collect the specimen and forward it on to a laboratory. They may or may not be responsible for reporting the results to your organization. They may or may not have arrangements with federally certified laboratories.

Laboratories are the organizations that actually process the specimens, determine whether they are positive or negative, and produce the attendant drug screen reports. These laboratories may or may not be federally certified.

Third Party Organizations
Third Party Organizations (TPOs) are administrative businesses that function as coordinators and facilitators among Client Company, collection site and laboratory. They help you analyze your particular screening needs and then help you select the appropriate kind of testing for your specific circumstances. Then they arrange for the services of nearby collection sites and certified laboratories. TPOs are generally sensitive to your particular reporting and billing needs, and can also function as "call centers" for most of your screening and results questions.

Which type of group should I work with?
That depends. If your business is located nearby, say, an occupational medicine clinic, and if you only do a few drug screens per year, they are probably adequate for your needs. If you are a large organization, conducting ten thousands of screens annually, you might be able to negotiate a reasonable arrangement direct with a laboratory. For most other businesses, though, an arrangement with a TPO would be the best thing.

Clinics tend to be patient-oriented. Most are not familiar with dealing with employers and the courts. Because of this orientation, they may apply the same patient confidentiality standards to forensic services like drug screening as they do to their medical services. Screening dates may have to be scheduled and arranged in advance, and your employee or client may be in for a long wait for service as medical emergencies always take preference over non medical services like drug screening.

Laboratories are always happy to negotiate contracts with large national employers, but are less interested in doing so with smaller companies, courts or social service agencies. Because of their size, the laboratories are less likely to be flexible in their billing and reporting procedures, expecting you to adapt to their needs rather than the other way around.

TPOs understand the needs of smaller business, courts and social service agencies because it is their business to do so. And by using a TPO for drug screening, your organization benefits by having a one-point contact for all questions--planning, organizing, results reporting, billing. Because TPAs pool the screens from multiple clients, they are able to save money from both collection sites and laboratories, and they can share those savings on with you.

If in doubt, write up a list of your needs and your questions. Speak with a representative from each type of organization. Find the one that seems to meet your needs the best. Then hold them responsible for doing what they promise.

© copyright 2008 Span Corporation

Mike Grosh is President, and Steve Barber is Director of Testing Service for Span Corporation, a national provider of drug screen and background investigation Third Party Administration services. Span Corporation headquarters are located at 1505 White St Ann Arbor MI 48103. Mike, Steve and Span Corporation can be reached at 734-623-7726 or Website URL:

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