CEO SUMMARY: By combining total lab automation with Lean techniques in a comprehensive makeover of its microbiology lab, one of the largest labs providing hospital acute care and community microbiology services in North America achieved major benefits. Benefits ranged from improvements in lab result turnaround time and reduced errors to significant gains in staff productivity and the quality of lab test results. Productivity improvements allowed the micro lab to absorb a 15% increase in specimen volume while staff levels were reduced by six full-time equivalent MLTs.
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Laboratory automation is a multi-disciplinary strategy to research, develop, optimize and capitalize on technologies in the laboratory that enable new and improved processes. Laboratory automation professionals are academic, commercial and government researchers, scientists and engineers who conduct research and develop new technologies to increase productivity, elevate experimental data quality, reduce lab process cycle times, or enable experimentation that otherwise would be impossible.
The most widely known application of automation technology is laboratory robotics. More generally, the field of automation comprises many different automated laboratory instruments, devices, software algorithms, and methodologies used to enable, expedite and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of scientific research in laboratories.
Automation can be implemented throughout a lab. Starting in the mid-1990s, several commercial laboratory companies and a handful of hospital laboratories took the plunge and installed total laboratory automation (TLA) systems in their high volume core laboratories.
Today, hundreds of clinical pathology laboratories in the United States have turned to laboratory automation as one approach to improving quality, reducing turnaround times for lab test results, to save money, and to improve staff productivity. Interest among clinical laboratories in automation is at an all-time high.
The cost of such TLA systems, however, often leads labs to opt instead for modular automation, which generally consists of consolidated analyzers, integrated analyzers, modular workcells, and pre- and post-analytical automation.
Another automation option is an island of automation, in which a single robotic system or other automatically operating machine functions independently of any other machine or process. Islands of automation offer the lab more flexibility in designing the workflow, and can also perform labor-intensive or hazardous tasks.
The application of technology in today’s laboratories is required to achieve timely progress and remain competitive. Laboratories devoted to activities such as high-throughput screening, combinatorial chemistry, automated clinical and analytical testing, diagnostics, large scale biorepositories, and many others would not exist without advancements in laboratory automation.
Many clinical laboratories are implementing automation solutions as a substitute for manual labor, due to the largest workforce shortage in the history of the medical laboratory industry. Appropriate use of integrated workstations, automated analyzers, and TLA systems all make it possible to re-assign the lab’s most skilled staff members to responsibilities that contribute much higher value.
The development of laboratory automation systems (LAS) would not be possible without sophisticated laboratory information systems (LIS).
CEO SUMMARY: Seeking ways to automate every aspect of work flow, the clinical laboratory at St. Francis Health System in Tulsa, Oklahoma, implemented a unique automated laboratory inventory management system that utilizes RFID. In the first four months, the system helped the hospital cut the value of inventory on hand by $296,000. Another direct cost savings was a 75% reduction in staff time required for inventory control. Payback from this investment was swift and lab administration says it is saving more than $169,000 each year because of this system.
HERE’S AN EXAMPLE OF HOW an accountable care organization views cost control. Atrius Health sought to control excess costs by focusing on high-priced items. It started with inappropriate hospitalizations and imaging studies and moved on to laboratory testing.
Atrius Health is a non-profit alliance of six community-based medical groups and a home health and hospice agency. Its
CEO SUMMARY: In Salt Lake City, Utah, work is underway to pioneer use of an electro-magnetic conveyor system to automate the movement of large volumes of lab test specimens throughout the testing facility of ARUP Laboratories. Within two years, this new lab automation technology could allow the reference lab to accommodate a 60% increase in
CEO Summary: Once it was decided to replace an aging, five-year-old laboratory automation system at the laboratory of Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Illinois, the administration at the hospital issued a challenge. It asked the laboratory team to deliver an immediate 10% cost savings upon implementation of its next-generation laboratory automation solution. Because of a
CEO SUMMARY: Here’s a prediction that automation of work processes for phlebotomy, specimen collection, and specimen transport may be the next trend. Unfolding developments in the United States are creating a situation parallel to what was seen in Japanese hospital laboratories more than two decades ago—and led to the world’s first automated solutions for clinical
CEO SUMMARY: In Japan, many clinical laboratories are in their third decade of using automation. At the University of Tokyo Hospital, total laboratory automation (TLA) was first implemented in 1991. Now on its fourth generation TLA system, this laboratory was worked upstream to automate specimen collection and urine collection, transport, and specimen preparation. The result
CEO SUMMARY: Everything relating to automation in clinical laboratory operations was the theme of the sixth “International Conference of Laboratory Automation and Robotics,” conducted last month in Kobe, Japan. Because laboratories in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan have two and three decades of experience with extensive automation, presentations at this gathering are quite sophisticated and reveal
CEO SUMMARY: A merger of three hospitals in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, forced PinnacleHealth’s lab director to find new ways to increase efficiency. A lab automation project helped improve turnaround time and staff productivity and cut costs. The cost savings is about 50 cents per test, which means the lab automation project is saving more than $1
CEO SUMMARY: There is an interesting dichotomy between Asia and North America. The same problems and challenges exist in both regions—declining reimbursement and budgets, labor force issues, and the need to spend more for new diagnostic technology. Yet laboratories in both regions see automation from different perspectives. Here’s a summary of several presentations given at