Difference between distribution and shipment

Often, users are confused between the Shipment and Distribution features and are not clear on when to use which feature. 

Shipment: When specimens are sent to another lab or offsite storage location, and that lab also uses the same instance of OpenSpecimen to receive and manage the samples.

For more details: Shipment

Distribution: When specimens are sent to a researcher or lab for utilizing the sample. The receiving lab does not use OpenSpecimen to track the samples.

For more details: Distribution

Here’s a summary of the differences:




Use case

Sent to researchers for utilization who may or may not be using OpenSpecimen

Sent to another site which uses the same instance of OpenSpecimen

Actions on Specimen

Distributed event added

Shipment shipped and shipment received events are added.

Specimen Disposal

An option is available to dispose of the specimens available. If checked, a disposal event added to the specimen

No option to dispose of the specimens while shipping

Container with specimens

Containers cannot be distributed

Containers can be shipped


Not after the specimen has been distributed

Possible after the specimen has been shipped/received

Partial Quantity

Partial distribution is possible

Partial shipment is not possible


An option to return the specimens, fully or partially. A separate return event is added in such a case.

No option to return the shipment. Another shipment has to be created from destination to source.