Automation in the Clinical Laboratory
Clinical laboratory automation is essential to deliver high quality results in the most cost effective and efficient way. Automation requires minimal operator intervention and helps to increase productivity, tracking of specimens within the laboratory, decreased turnaround times, improvements in specimen handling, improved laboratory safety, and minimizes errors. Since the laboratory tests that typically run on these automated lines have a critical impact on medical decision making, all of these improvements that automation provides to the laboratory help to improve patient safety, while reducing the turnaround time for results.
Automation in the clinical laboratory is used not only to assist the laboratory’s test performance but also to process and transport specimens, to load specimens on to instruments, to assess test results, and to store and archive results. Automation systems typically have a conveyor transport to which several instruments can be connected and may also have a storage and retrieval module. The automation system that we currently have at HNL’s core laboratory has an input/output module for loading/unloading specimens on to the track, a barcode reader for specimen identification and the order information for testing that needs to be run, centrifuges to process the specimens, a decapper to take the caps off of the tubes prior to being sampled for testing, and a recapper that places a foil seal on the specimens before they are sent to the refrigerated storage modules. The automation lines also have the capability to sort specimens that may need to be transported to another area of the laboratory for testing.
In addition to automation, HNL uses auto verification for specimen results. Patient results that are “normal” are automatically released into the lab computer system decreasing the turnaround time and limiting the number of results that a technologist needs to review manually. Auto verification allows the technologists to concentrate on results that are abnormal.
HNL is currently in the process of standardizing the chemistry platform for the entire network and implementing automation at some of the ACL sites, along with expanding the automation capabilities at the core laboratory. The HNL team worked closely with our vendor to do a workflow analysis to get the appropriate design of our new automation lines. The ACLs and core laboratory will be implementing more than just chemistry on the new automation lines. Other disciplines that will be connected to the line are hematology, coagulation, and at the core laboratory special chemistry.
Being able to connect all these disciplines will make our clinical laboratories more efficient and provide better turnaround times. Some statistics that were provided to the core laboratory from the vendor include: a 40-65% reduction in manual specimen processing steps, a 40-50% decrease in sample processing hazards, a 60-80% in specimen touches, a 60-90% reduction in distance traveled to deliver specimens, and a 10-50% reduction in turnaround time depending on the type of testing that is being ordered on the specimen. All of these added features of the new automation lines will help us to provide both our physicians and patients with high quality results in a decreased amount of time.
Lab Manager: Why Add Automation to Your Laboratory, April Muenz, 4/2/2021
Beckman Coulter Workflow Analysis for HNL-Roble Road core laboratory