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Charting New Territory in Laboratory Automation

Thu, 02/06/2014 - 2:41pm
Dave Hickey and Connie Mardis, Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, Tarrytown, N.Y.

Aptio Automation track-based unified solution for total laboratory automation. Images: Siemens Healthcare DiagnosticsMedical laboratory test results provide physicians with vital information needed for accurate diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of patients. An estimated 60 to 70% of all decisions regarding a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, hospital admission and discharge are based on laboratory test results. Increasingly, laboratory automation solutions play an important role in patient outcomes as testing volumes increase and physicians place greater demand on the laboratory for faster result turnaround times. Laboratory automation continues to evolve, helping address the demographic pressures and geographic trends facing patients and providers.

Demographics, economics drive innovation
In the mature health care market of the U.S., advancements in laboratory automation help customers improve productivity to address personnel shortages and cost pressure. With the average age of U.S. laboratory professionals approaching 50, a mass retirement exodus may impact the health care services market this decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts 11,000 new laboratory professionals will be needed each year through 2018, while educational programs are only graduating 6,000 per year. Hospitals remain under cost pressure due to the lingering impact of the recession, health care reform and an aging population requiring more health care services, while reimbursements decline.

There is a global increase in aging demographics and chronic conditions requiring more frequent care, including diabetes and heart disease. Between 2010 and 2030, a 69% increase is estimated in the number of adults with diabetes in developing countries, with a 20% increase in developed countries. Globally, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is projected to remain the single-leading cause of death, and low- and middle-income countries are disproportionally affected: Over 80% of CVD deaths take place in these countries.

But longer lifespans are not only occurring in developed nations. By 2050, four-fifths of the world’s elderly people will be in developing nations, according to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. With the projected growth of large middle class populations demanding modern health care in developing countries, such as China and India, and the accelerating pace of biomedical discovery, the potential for the growth of the medical technology industry is great.

The growing global demand for diagnostic testing, coupled with a shrinking labor force in mature markets, drives clinical laboratories to adopt automation solutions to help maximize workflow efficiency while delivering quality results fast.

VersaCell System connects multiple analyzers in task-targeted automation.Scalability, flexibility
Innovation begins with customer insight. Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics researches customer needs with a R&D model of Customer Centered Product Definition (CCPD). Then a SMART innovation approach—simple, maintenance friendly, affordable, reliable and with appropriate time-to-market—provides outcome-oriented technology.

Automating error-prone manual processes can improve quality and productivity. Compact solutions, which include pre- and/or post-analytical sorting and single sample management with primary test tube sampling, significantly reduce manual sample handling. Innovations incorporating advanced robotic solutions can improve workflow by connecting multiple instruments, enabling an extensive menu of tests to be accomplished from one test tube, by one employee, in one workstation generating one report. Flexibility to load samples directly into a STAT drawer on the VersaCell System to prioritize samples for rush processing, or onto an individual connected instrument, provides laboratories with multiple options to meet their clinical demands.

From automated instruments and task-targeted automation powered by advanced robotic solutions with multiple connectivity options, to total laboratory automation with track-based systems, automation solutions today are scalable and flexible to meet the demands of any size laboratory. Modular components of laboratory automation can be added to keep up with increasing demand, or to consolidate multi-discipline testing. From automation-ready instruments to pre- and post-analytical modules such as a test tube decapper, centrifuge, tube sealer and refrigerated storage, customizable automation configurations allow laboratories the flexibility of phased implementation.

Puck-based system with RFID enables sample tracking and STAT prioritization. Much like adding sections of track to a model train layout, the latest laboratory automation track has the flexibility to curve around obstacles. With every laboratory configured uniquely and floor space at a premium, these new circular tracks can adapt to nearly any laboratory or testing environment without requiring extensive facility construction. A point-in-space aspiration feature helps streamline workflow by reducing the need to aliquot (or divide) samples, and a puck-based system with radio frequency identification (RFID) enables individual sample routing and tracking, along with STAT prioritization.

Comprehensive analytics can be delivered via centralized information technology. Powerful data management systems facilitate efficient sample flow, auto-verification of results, quick access to samples and proactive, integrated quality control (QC) and specimen tracking to free laboratory staff from time-consuming tasks. Remote service improves uptime and efficiency by proactively diagnosing problems before they become disruptions. This can be critical for laboratories serving patients in remote geographies.

The power of automation
Total laboratory automation enables improved health care access even in remote regions. Imagine starting out in the pre-dawn light, walking hours from a rural home to the nearest paved road to take a bus to Manipur, India, and the nearest clinical laboratory. With results in hand by 1:00 pm in time to see the doctor, the patient is treated and can make the long trek home before sundown. Poor roads and a high violent crime rate make traveling at night risky in Manipur. It’s laboratory automation that provides the fast turnaround time, delivering results in time to make the single day visit for testing and treatment possible.

The science of diagnostic medicine continues to find answers to the world’s most threatening diseases for patients in any location. When market needs meet passionate innovators, automation advancements result in clinical and workflow excellence to help laboratories run faster and test smarter.

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