Technology Cannot Replace Productive People

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READING THE PRINTER PROOFS FOR STORIES in this issue of THE DARK REPORT, I was struck by the importance of new technology to the competitive position of clinical laboratories. Each new scientific breakthrough affecting diagnostics requires individual laboratories to assess whether or not they should adopt that technology.

In our list of the Top Ten lab industry stories for 1998, technology plays a role in automated cytology systems, mapping of the human genome, and the multiplex bioassay platform developed by Luminex Corp. These are the upcoming technologies which will change laboratories in ways yet to be determined.

Contrast the impending arrival of new technologies mentioned above with our assessment of total laboratory automation for 1999. In this story, our editor declares the current generation of TLA technology to be DOA–dead on arrival. Laboratories which pioneered the installation of TLA systems have not volunteered to share detailed financial information about TLA’s actual performance. In fact, several labs that installed TLA have told THE DARK REPORT, off the record, that it was a mistake to have done it.

That is what brought me to an interesting observation. In my business career, I have always found that the best solution to a problem was people. If I needed a turnaround when times were bad, if I needed extra profit margin from existing operations, the solution was always to assign a person with a good mind and initiative to attack the challenge. Invariably they would find a way to accomplish the mission, on time and on budget.

Yet, when I work with laboratorians, they tend to overlook the capabilities people possess for solving problems. Many lab managers seem to believe that purchasing a new technology and putting it in their laboratory will bring about lower costs, higher quality, better service. That is why total laboratory automation was so closely-watched as it entered the marketplace. If it worked, many lab administrators believed it would help them cut lab costs, cut people, and improve quality.

Yet none of that happened. This first generation of TLA fizzled. Meanwhile, those labs which invested in their people found effective, low-cost ways to steadily reduce costs, improve quality, and keep everyone happy. It illustrates my point that “technology cannot replace productive people!”

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