News and Insights from AACC Meeting in Chicago

17,000 attendees and 786 exhibitors came together at the lab industry’s largest live conference in two years

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CEO SUMMARY: There was plenty of positive energy last month when the 72nd Annual Scientific Meeting and Exhibition of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC) took place in Chicago. Attendees seemed pleased to be gathering and networking in person. However, there was recognition that the acute staffing shortage, combined with increasing inflation and deteriorating finances at hospitals, were putting clinical labs under intense pressure.

IN CHICAGO LAST MONTH, SOME 17,000 MEDICAL LABORATORY PROFESSIONALS attended the scientific meeting and exhibition of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC). For those who have missed scientific meetings during the pandemic, the good news is that, in most respects, the event resembled the pre-pandemic annual meetings of the AACC. 

But the picture was not entirely rosy for the clinical laboratory industry. During the week, conversations at the meeting with many clinical lab administrators and executives of the in vitro diagnostics (IVD) manufacturers confirmed that nearly all clinical laboratories are struggling to deal with three major trends within the U.S. healthcare system. These trends will be covered in the intelligence briefing found here. The three trends include: 

  • A serious and ongoing shortage of lab staff across all skill sets and positions. 
  • Extreme budget pressures because of rapid increases in staff compensation, amplified by supply chain shortages and inflation-fueled price increases for lab analyzers, tests, consumables, fuel, etc.
  • Deteriorating finances at a substantial number of hospitals and health systems that directly hinders the ability of their clinical labs to sustain the desired high level clinical testing services. 

Thus, the success of the AACC meeting itself can be considered a positive development for the House of Laboratory Medicine, while the intelligence gathered from leaders of labs and lab vendors provided useful insights about how the three trends described earlier are creating unprecedented stresses and financial challenges for labs across the nation, particularly labs operated by hospitals and health systems. 

Positive Energy at AACC

For the good news part of this briefing, in the AACC exhibition hall, vendors had a steady stream of visitors at their booths and stayed busy over the three days of the exhibition. Similarly, there was good attendance at the many scientific sessions. 

The number of attendees and their enthusiasm to be networking in person is evidence that a large number of clinical chemists, lab industry vendors, and others would like to get back to business as usual. 

Many attendees acknowledged that—in this almost-post-pandemic era—SARS-CoV-2 still lingers and shows signs of continuing as an endemic disease. Yet, this week-long assemblage of scientific presentations and the huge exhibition (with 786 exhibitors) unfolded without incident. 

The one reminder that COVID-19 is still present were the two safety protocols required of attendees. These requirements were probably the single major change from the last pre-pandemic AACC annual meeting in 2019.

COVID-19 Safety Protocols

One requirement was that all attendees needed to show proof of vaccination (two shots plus booster) or a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of arrival. The second requirement was that masks were to be worn at all times within McCormick Place, the exhibition hall, and the scientific sessions. Most attendees complied with the “wear a mask at all times” requirement. 

Many lab managers attend the AACC annual meeting to shop for new automation and analyzers and to scope out any breakthrough technologies that may be of interest. Feedback from attendees was that most of the newest generation of automation and instruments shown by vendors represent incremental improvements over the prior generation of products. 

A number of the IVD vendors acknowledged that, because of the pandemic, for the past two years their companies’ efforts were focused on manufacturing the instruments, tests, and consumables needed for large volumes of SARS-CoV-2 testing. For this reason, their planned development of breakthrough technologies was interrupted over the past 32 months. 

That is why most of the newest generation products unveiled at this meeting represented incremental improvements, not breakthrough innovations. But lab interest in buying was robust, for an obvious reason. Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, most clinical laboratories delayed scheduled replacement of their high volume, core lab automation and analyzers. 

Overdue for Replacement

Now, with additional years of usage, these lab analyzers are overdue for replacement. The ability to come to this summer’s AACC exhibition was the perfect opportunity for lab professionals to shop new solutions. They had plenty of products to see, as this year continued the pre-pandemic trend of new companies appearing as exhibitors, showcasing their brand of lab analyzers and lab tests. 

Many of these newer vendors were showing bench-size and point-of-care testing systems. Advances in various technologies are making it possible to design and manufacture smaller analyzers that use reduced volumes of specimen. The miniaturization trend of past years continues through the present. 

The intelligence briefing that follows provides more details and insights about the three major trends mentioned earlier. Each of these trends is creating major stresses on most clinical laboratories across the United States.

Contact Robert Michel at rmichel@darkreport.

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