March 4th, 2020 | Valerya Poltorak, GM, Sterling Healthcare & Life Sciences

Drug Testing in Healthcare: From Pain Point to Competitive Advantage

Drug Testing in Healthcare: methods, solutions and best practices

In order to provide a safer working environment, US-based companies typically employ some form of drug testing before hiring potential candidates. With myriad safety-sensitive roles, healthcare and life sciences organizations have even more reason to undertake pre and post-hire drug testing.

With a dizzying array of options, which type of drug testing is the right one? Instant or lab based? Self-collect or site-administered collection? Urine sampling or oral fluid, or hair, or blood? Perhaps a hybrid program would be best?

Federal agencies such as the Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission have established drug testing requirements for related positions that perform safety-sensitive functions. Beyond these regulations there are no overarching federal laws regulating workplace drug testing in the private sector. However, some states have laws that restrict or outright prohibit drug testing in particular scenarios, or the methods that can be used.

To help make sense of it all, Sterling’s Healthcare and Drug Testing subject matter experts took the time to review the various options, discuss the pros and cons of each, and outline several best practices.

Drug Testing Methods

The two core methods we will explore in this article are lab-based testing and instant, often referred to as rapid or point of collection testing. There are also three types of sampling methods used for workplace testing: urine, oral fluid, and hair.

Lab-based testing

“With lab-based tests, nearly all commonly abused substances can be tested for,” Sterling’s Senior Vice President of Drug and Health Screening, John Mallios stated.

Lab-based drug tests are typically initiated at a testing facility that is qualified to collect urine, oral fluid, or hair specimens from job candidates or employee donors. These facilities also complete required paperwork and arrange for the transfer of collected specimens to a separate laboratory for analysis.

The traditional and most common method of workplace drug testing is lab-based urine testing, which is also the only methodology currently approved and actively employed for federally regulated programs. A Current Consulting Group survey of employers across 25 industries found that 76% of employers use lab-based urine tests.

The chart above outlines the various aspects of lab-based testing that talent acquisition professionals should consider when deciding what their organization’s testing standards policy will be.

Instant testing

Today, instant testing can screen for most commonly abused substances via urine and oral fluid sampling. Instant is the fastest way to screen for negative drug test results, which can typically be produced in 15 minutes or less.

The chart below outlines the various aspects of instant testing that talent acquisition professionals can consider.

Over the course of the last several years, the reliability of instant testing has improved greatly. This fact, coupled with faster turnaround time, means that these tests are being adopted more widely across all industries, including the healthcare and life sciences industries. In fact, the Current Consulting Group survey revealed that 52% of employers use instant urine tests to screen for drugs.

“While there are several variables that contribute to actual non-negative rates that employers will realize, 8-10& is typically accepted as the standard range. As such, employers can make hiring decisions, or return the individual to work quickly,” John explains.

“Instant testing is reliable, but a distinction must be made between screening and actual confirmation testing,” Mallios clarifies and adds, “It’s essential for a confirmation test to be performed when employers who are using instant testing for screening do not get a negative result. The vast majority of Sterling clients send the individual in for a lab-based test at that point.”

So, Which One?

Lab-based testing is considered to be more reliable due to the instruments used and the rigorous testing protocols followed by laboratories. However, a 1 to 3-day wait for a negative result should be expected by employers.

Additionally, a site-based administered collection removes employer burden in dealing with the donor, handling a specimen, preparing paperwork, and possibly coordinating for transport to the testing laboratory.

On the flip side, an employer-administered oral fluid collection is not difficult and beneficial for testing, as a negative result can be produced in very little time.

When it comes to sampling, urine and oral fluid are appropriate for detecting recent use, and are less expensive than hair. However, urine is more prone to tampering than the others.

For organizations operating in remote or rural areas, lab-based oral fluid testing is a strong option for employers to consider, and one that Sterling commonly offers to employers.

Based on the information provided, healthcare and life sciences organizations should weigh all options carefully, and choose the collection and sampling methods that make the most sense for their workplaces as well as business needs.

Next Up – Part II

In Part II of this article, we’ll discuss how healthcare and life sciences companies can best leverage technology to strengthen their drug-free workplace programs.

We’ll also look at industry best practices and provide key takeaways.

In the meantime, Sterling’s Drug Testing in Healthcare: From Pain Point to Competitive Advantage webinar is available to watch on-demand now.

Our Healthcare and Life Sciences team is comprised of industry experts who help employers create and implement safer workplace policies to promote compliance with state and federal hiring regulations. To learn more about Sterling’s solutions, visit  healthcare background check.

Source: Current Consulting Group Employer Drug Testing Survey

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.