Your lab is at the heart of fast and accurate healthcare delivery. That means constant pressure for quick turnaround times, high-quality samples, and clear results. The demand for STAT samples is at an all-time high, and even tests once considered routine are now under time pressure. The need to maximize STAT processing efficiency is clear.
Your team is streamlined and well trained on your current process, which adds extra cost and challenge to any significant workflow changes to address increased STAT volume. Major systemic overhauls can also be costly. There are several steps which can be taken with minimal adjustment and at minimal cost to streamline sample processing and deliver faster results – for STAT samples, and for routine specimens as well.
Utilize Better Centrifuge Cycle Tracking Methods
Traditionally, centrifuges communicate cycle status via audible alarms. However, lab noise can quickly drown these out: especially in larger labs, it is easy to miss the audible alarm that signals the end of a cycle. When this is missed, tubes are left waiting in the centrifuge, or sometimes even forgotten. This delay can significantly increase TAT.
Audio indicators used to be the industry standard, but centrifuge manufacturers have begun to recognize that audible alerts alone are not sufficient. The introduction of advanced features like LED lid lighting allows accessioners to see cycle status at a glance, ensuring that tubes are removed from the centrifuge and the next set of samples is loaded immediately after processing is complete. For even greater control, many laboratories opt for a centrifuge with a digital display. Many digital units include an on-screen countdown that enables operators to view exactly how much time remains in a cycle, down to the very last second.
Use a Centrifuge Array in Accessioning
Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to centrifugation. Many laboratories are making the transition from large centrifuges that require batching to nimble table-top units. An array of small centrifuges can be loaded quickly without waiting for a previous cycle to finish, making them a more efficient and cost-effective choice for smaller labs and high-volume facilities alike. In facilities where space is limited, accessioners often prefer compact models that are easily grouped and repositioned.
To further reduce TAT in accessioning, many STAT and routine laboratories utilize a centrifuge array in or near the lab’s accessioning station to facilitate a more continuous workflow. Accessioners are able to centrifuge samples as soon as they arrive and place tubes directly onto the chemistry analyzer STAT line. This eliminates multiple handling steps and trips to chemistry, and most importantly, reduces wait time for patients.
Spin Faster, Spin Smarter
Table-top centrifuges are light and compact, but that doesn’t mean they lack the processing power of their larger counterparts. Advancements in technology allow for complete separation at higher g-forces and shorter spin times (as permitted by CLSI GP44-A4 section 188.8.131.52 and tube manufacturers’ instructions for use). Centrifuge manufacturers are now able to produce centrifuges and rotors capable of spinning high-quality samples in three minutes or less.
Tube manufacturers and clinical laboratory experts like the Clinical & Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI) recommend using a horizontal rotor to ensure the best possible clinical results. Horizontal or swing-bucket centrifuges have been proven to spin samples in 2/3 the time required by a fixed angle centrifuge, creating a better experience for both patients and lab technicians alike. Fixed angle centrifuges are prone to inaccurate results due to the thin, unstable gel layer that is formed during processing. This can lead to breakage, leakage, or rupture during transport.
When sample quality is compromised due to poor centrifugation, the only solution is to redraw the specimen. This is time-consuming and inconvenient for patients. Note that the CLSI recommends against re-centrifuging samples, as it can significantly skew results and result in serious misdiagnoses. Time is of the essence, and these mistakes can be costly.
Label Sooner and Label Clearly
Did you know improved turnaround time starts before tubes even reach the lab? Many medical facilities have adopted the practice of labeling samples for STAT in phlebotomy at the time they are drawn. Samples can be processed as soon as they arrive, eliminating the extra time required to print out correct labels and re-label each tube.
In addition to labeling sooner, phlebotomists are encouraged to label specimens more clearly. Develop a system to distinguish a single test sample from a shared one, or a routine sample from urgent STAT. For example, many laboratories have begun using color-coded bags to clearly indicate tests from emergency, oncology, or any other department that requires immediate STAT processing. This reduces the risk of misplaced tubes, cuts down on time wasted searching for samples, and establishes a distinct hierarchy of urgency.
However, if this hierarchy is not clear, bottlenecks can occur. When multiple less-urgent tests are labeled as STAT by providers, lab technicians are forced to process samples in the order in which they were received, and true emergencies may not be given the priority they deserve. Schedule a meeting with laboratory and clinical teams to review your specimen collection inputs, set realistic goals, and prioritize the order in which samples should be processed. All lab tests are important, but in order to truly optimize operations, everyone must be on the same page.
Reducing TAT can seem challenging at times, but with a few simple changes, results can be delivered in record time to the doctors and nurses who help the people who matter most – your patients.
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.