From staffing shortages to larger assay menus, today’s diagnostic labs face many challenges. Yet, your lab—and the results your team supplies—are essential to patient care. When those answers are delayed, diagnostic accuracy, care delivery, and patient/staff satisfaction may suffer.

Integrating automation in your lab and consolidating some lab instruments may help. But how do you know if this approach is right for you, your team, and your organization? The first step is to understand what’s possible with integrated automation and how these features can help solve some of your most critical challenges.

Manage the same workload with fewer analyzers

Higher chemistry and immunoassay testing volumes are driving core laboratories to consolidate analysis and rationalize equipment. This consolidation can be tricky, as the analytical times for chemistry and immunoassay testing differ. Consolidation, if not done correctly, can affect the turnaround time (TAT). The key is to optimize the transport of samples to maximize throughput and minimize TAT.

Eliminate rack delivery to speed efficiency

In rack-based sample delivery systems, many samples share a single rack. Therefore, the TAT for each test depends on the collective requests for all the samples in the rack. There are two fundamental problems with rack-based systems: First, samples may travel to places they do not need to be, and second, they may get in the way of samples that need to be processed. As a result, TAT balloons and productivity falls.

Single Sample Transport (SST) eliminate racks and instead transport individual samples at high speed along a bidirectional track. This method of individual sample transporting and direct tube aspiration reduces sample bottlenecks for efficient routing. These solutions also provide many configurations, including turns, and provide exceptional adaptability to consolidate high-volume testing in tight spaces.

Accurate sample-container characterization can help

Sample-container variation poses a significant challenge to the reliability and performance of automated in-vitro diagnostic equipment. Historically, manufacturers have chosen to respond by restricting the variety of tube types supported by each instrument. However, modern clinical laboratories receive patient samples from an ever-increasing array of sources and often have minimal influence over the containers they are expected to process. The lab must spend considerable time and resources on the error-prone task of transferring samples from one container to another to overcome the different limitations of each device.

More modern, SST systems can characterize each sample container as it is loaded onto the instrument. Developing these capabilities required breakthrough innovations in all three major areas of sample processing: tube loading, identification, and transport.

Blend routine and STAT testing for better workflows

An integrated automated solution with SST can handle STAT tests and routine tests simultaneously to reduce cost and increase efficiency. This integration eliminates the need for dedicated STAT analyzers and, as a result, reduces labor. However, blending routine and STAT workflows can be challenging, potentially increasing the sample processing times for both routine and STAT tests.

Integrated solutions with SST can manage samples individually on a bidirectional track to correctly prioritize STAT samples. When a STAT is requested, an integrated solution moves all routine samples out of the way, even if they are aspirated for analysis. Once the STAT sample has been aspirated, the routine samples are shuttled back into the process. With this system, any sample designated as a STAT can start the analytical process in as little as 60 seconds.

Ready to integrate automation? Here’s what to ask.

Here are 8 key questions you and your teams should ask as you evaluate your options for integrated automation.

  1. Does the solution offer automated QC processes with separate, dedicated, onboard, and refrigerated storage? This can help free staff time and help drive outcomes.
  2. How are samples transported? Bidirectional, variable-speed magnetic Single Sample Transport with intelligent scheduling can offer predictable TAT and STAT prioritization and protect samples.
  3. Is it a rack-based delivery solution or does it provide individual sample transport and direct tube aspiration? This can reduce sample bottlenecks for efficient routing.
  4. Can the system accommodate several container types? This can minimize presorting and aliquoting prior to sample loading.
  5. Does the system include technology that can reduce risks (such as barcode reading errors, exception handling, and unnecessary operator intervention)? A multi-camera vision system with 360° view can be beneficial.
  6. What’s the loading capacity for on-board sample handling? A high-loading capacity (400+ tubes) can help manage greater volume.
  7. Does it include features that can directly save operator time? (Such as automatic sample volume checking for small container types)
  8. How does it manage decapping? If decapping is integrated into the analytical workflow, you may improve efficiency and save valuable lab space for other instruments, etc.

As a lab director, you’re undoubtedly facing any number of challenges at any given time. But staffing shortages and increased testing volumes will likely remain in our industry for years to come. Implementing a single solution with integrated automation could help your lab now and position it for success in the years to come.

Industry Insights articles are created and paid for by advertisers. The views expressed in these articles do not necessarily represent AACC’s views, and their inclusion in CLN is not an endorsement by CLN or AACC.