Vol. 22 • Issue 6 • Page 38
Focus on: Preanalytical Automation
With the ever-increasing demands of the clinical laboratory to work around staffing shortages, improve quality and enhance customer service, all while decreasing costs, it’s essential that the pre-analytical automation stage – a point frequently prone to error in the diagnostic process and the first opportunity for bottlenecks – is approached thoughtfully and with care. When it comes to automation, there are myriad options, but it’s important to select the right instrumentation for the unique needs of your lab.
What should you look for when selecting the right pre-analytical automation solution for your lab? To start, it’s essential that your vendor partner understands your unique requirements and can create a flexible solution to meet the evolving needs of your lab, no matter what the level of throughput. Automation offerings – from stand-alone to connected – should provide maximum scalability and flexibility, with modular solutions designed to meet the current and future needs of the lab.
Having an effective, time-efficient pre-analytical automation laboratory solution for sample accession, transport and sorting can ultimately free lab techs from tedious manual sorting and transportation between various equipment and storage. The pre-analytical components of the automation system should provide a seamless set-up for the remainder of the analysis process. Careful selection of a pre-analytical automation instrument leads the lab down the path of error reduction, workflow improvements and more effective use of resources. Consider the following features when automating your lab.
Single Point of Entry
Selecting an automation solution with a single point of entry to manage all tubes – from sample receipt to archiving – provides the lab technician with easier tube management to enable timely analysis and results reporting. When samples still have volume remaining, systems can efficiently handle and re-sort samples for pending test routing or for storage. Managing the sample from one location reduces variability of stat turnaround and allows tests to be sorted to separate locations with ease. Supporting laboratory function without depleting the time of valuable labor resources, a single point of entry streamlines the pre-analytical process from the get-go.
Sample Loading and Receipt
Automated sample loading and sorting minimizes manual handling for technician safety and risk of natural human error. Workflow is improved with easily loadable drawers and convenient, continuous access to racks during the pre-analytical process for loading samples, while robotic handlers safely and efficiently move samples throughout the process. Some pre-analytical automation instrumentation has the ability to process all types of samples, including pediatric samples with appropriate adapters, for space savings and functionality, while dedicated stat input areas make prioritizing the process for rapid turnaround tests quick and uncomplicated.
For sample receipt, advanced sample barcode readers can improve positive patient sample identification and notify the LIS of receipt, streamlining the workflow efficiency. Tubes can be easily retrieved at any point in the process with intelligent mapping to storage racks. And tubes are identified in the system with automated measurement of sample diameter and height ensuring proper sorting and aliquotting, preparing the test for automated tube inspection.
Sorting to Sample Racks
Time constraints in the lab can be combated by advanced pre-analytical processes with higher sorting speeds and “open” system architecture sorting to sample racks. Sample tubes can be received on the line and sorted directly to analyzer racks. Automated tube sorting allows the lab technician to quickly and efficiently transfer pre-sorted racks from the pre-analytical stage to the analytical stage, returning their focus to more robust tasks. Once testing is complete, the analyzer racks can be reintroduced at the inlet and the system is able to prioritize what assay is required next. Based on assay prioritization, it will sort the tubes to the next analyzer rack or to a storage rack if testing is complete. By increasing speed while still maintaining accuracy, the lab can accommodate greater throughput in transfers to instruments, other lab sections or send-out test requirements.
Tube Inspecting and Volume Determination
Sample processing systems continue to optimize lab workflow by further eliminating many of the manual steps that occur between sample collection and analysis. Unique 2-D and 3-D cap color analysis on coded caps allows for validation of sample type against test ordered for error prevention often associated with specimen handling. Intelligent tube volume determination features provide automated measurement of plasma or serum volume to determine whether all required aliquots can be created or if a redraw is needed.
Ted Sheridan is senior manager, Clinical Automation, Beckman Coulter Diagnostics.