Workplace automation is a complex and challenging process. In the clinical laboratory it is essential to carry out complex automated processes with minimal human intervention, as this supports quality and efficiency of testing.
Workplace automation technologies are being deployed in the clinical laboratory by software engineers and technicians from a variety of departments. This essay discusses the following key concepts:
The different processes that can be automated; The fundamental principles behind hospital automation; Basic steps for evaluating and implementing solutions for clinical laboratories; A benefit to the healthcare sector – improved productivity at lower cost.
Automation In The Clinical Laboratory
The term automation was first used in the context of factories, but has since evolved to embrace all types of machinery or hardware related to data collection and processing. This includes computerized patient record systems, diagnostic devices and software.
In a relatively short period of time, AutoAnalyzer developed into Tecnicon single and multichannel continuous flow autoanalyzers.
Although automation is a vital tool for the clinical laboratory, it can be quite daunting and confusing when performed manually. The article will identify some basic steps used to evaluate a task and when it can be automated within the clinical laboratory.
The automation process starts by means of a logical inventory of test equipment and an identification of areas where automation could be helpful. Then the first rounds of evaluation must be made to determine what tasks can be automated. In order to perform this evaluation, one should consider the following key factors:
Once all these points have been carefully examined, it will become evident whether the task can be handled by a computer or not. If it is possible, then one must calculate whether there is benefit in automating the task and how much time will probably be saved as a result.
Importance Of Automation In The Clinical Laboratory
To summarize, automation is an important factor in the clinical laboratory, since its primary goal is to improve efficiency and produce consistent results that can be achieved with human operators.
It enables laboratories to save money by cutting down on staff costs as well as minimizing error rates before they happen. Automation also optimizes the number of tests that can be performed, while at the same time enabling laboratories to perform precise tests that cannot be done manually.
The sequential multiple analyzer (SMA) and the sequential multiple analyzer with computer (SMAC), which has a built-in computer, represent the apex of the autoanalyzer in the 1970s.
In this way, automation can reduce the risks of medical errors by improving consistency and reliability in testing procedures. It also reduces risk of contamination through sterilization, storage and tests that must be performed manually.
Moreover, automated systems improve quality control by ensuring adequate test conditions for each patient. Finally, automation can enhance the safety of laboratory practices through computerized systems that alert staff members to potential problems before they result in injuries to patients. This is important because it improves patient safety through more reliable processes and human error is prevented from occurring.
Benefits Of Automation In The Clinical Laboratory
Clinical laboratories are increasingly turning to automation to help manage the increasing workloads associated with clinical chemistry and other clinical testing. Laboratory automation can help to improve accuracy and efficiency in the laboratory, as well as freeing up staff time for other tasks.
Continuous flow analysis is one type of automation that is becoming increasingly popular in clinical laboratories, as it can help to speed up testing times and improve the accuracy of results.
After the introduction of the photodiode array for spectrophotometers with grating monochromators and of clinical chemistry ready-to-use assay reagent methodology—the latter of which was introduced to the clinical chemistry field in the 1950s by Sigma Chemical Company in St. Louis—random access, discrete, sequential autoanalyzers were met in the market in the early 1980s.
The use of total laboratory automation can help to improve the efficiency of laboratory testing, pre and post-analytical processes, and molecular diagnostics. Automated clinical laboratories can provide a higher level of quality and accuracy than manual ones, and can also help to reduce the cost of laboratory testing.
1. Better Efficiency
The clinical laboratory is a high-volume and high-velocity environment. Time to process an order varies depending on the urgency of the request and the number of patients. The time required to get work back to the laboratory comes before any time saved by automation because of efficiency.
This means that if there are five orders for fingerstick glucose test for patients A, B, C, D and E with urgent requests from all four of them, a computerized system can do this faster than human operators.
2. Better Quality Control
Shortcoming in procedure or equipment can occur when staff are manually engaging with testing devices without quality control checks. When working with automated systems, the results are checked against pre-recorded templates in order to ensure accuracy. This can help improve quality control and thus increase patient safety and satisfaction.
3. Reduced Operational Costs
The construction of sophisticated laboratory systems, which include a track for linking the analyzers, has been recommended for laboratories with daily workloads of 1000–10,000 specimens.
Computers are generally cheaper than humans to run tasks, but they also require less maintenance and repair. With the use of computers, one can cut down costs on staffing (to increase productivity) or buying new equipment (to reduce development costs).
4. Enhanced Productivity And Cost Effective Staffing Utilization
The increased automation of laboratory tests means more efficiency and better quality control since there is less human intervention required for automation control functions. In this way, one can bring down the cost per test, as well as the rate of errors.
5. Facilitates Better Administrative Control
When a staff member is manually operating a device, it means that no record of some crucial information is recorded in the process. In this way, records and statistics cannot be easily obtained for trends and quality analysis of clinical practices.
However, with computerized systems, all tasks are logged – including tests performed and results returned to the laboratory – making it easier for healthcare administrators to conduct quality control analysis on strategies and procedures used.
6. Reduced Labor Costs
A clinical laboratory can become bound by the labor costs of staff if they are not used effectively. Reduced labor costs can be achieved by hiring fewer staff, or using automated processes that don’t require to directly engage the skills of any coworker.
7. Enhanced Quality Control And Improved Patient Safety
Automation improves the quality of information returned to physicians and caregivers, potentially resulting in patient safety improvements and reduced medical errors. This is achievable because all tasks performed are fully logged with a digital record, as well as greater control over devices and higher restraints over them through automation protocols. Computerized systems can alert staff of potential problems before they result in patient injury.
8. Reduced Errors
Medical errors occur through a variety of means, including human error in test procedures or the use of unreliable equipment. Automation helps reduce errors by improving consistency and reliability. Additionally, the computerized system is able to alert staff to potential problems before they result in patient injury.
Risks Of Automation In The Clinical Laboratory
Laboratory automation is the combination of various types of automated analytical systems for use in a modern laboratory. These systems can include automated and manual processes, and often utilize a sequential multiple analyzer. A laboratory automation system can greatly improve efficiency and accuracy in the laboratory.
A laboratory with a daily workload of 500–2000 samples was suggested by Armbruster et al. to create a stand-alone preanalytical system.
The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of laboratory information systems (LIS) on laboratory automation, clinical chemistry laboratory workload, and analytical systems. The findings suggest that LIS can have a positive impact on laboratory automation and analytical systems, but may not significantly reduce laboratory workload.
1. It’s Not Always Possible To Automate
Every test has a unique set of calculations and procedures, which means that some can be automated while others cannot. This is because the underlying biology doesn’t always lend itself to computerization and automation.
For example, laboratories with a large number of anatomical pathology would find it very difficult to automate since they need highly skilled specialist knowledge in anatomy.
2. Replacing Humans With Computers Can Be Challenging
A conveniently chosen laboratory automation system is to manage the laboratory workload at a ratio of at least 80%, and the automated stages may be improved or eliminated.
While many tasks can be automated, there are others for which human intervention is required (e.g., HbA1c or lipids). Additionally, working without human operators can be a bit challenging because the computer cannot counsel or inform about the problems that are occurring.
3. There Is A Learning Curve For Automated Systems
Automation is not an easy task to master and it takes time to perfect it. One must have an understanding of the biology, as well as the underlying calculations required for every test performed in order to optimize automation.
4. Challenges In Maintenance And Upgrades Of Systems
With computer systems come updating and maintenance activities, which can sometimes go wrong with unwanted consequences, including data entry and output errors, data loss or device neglect (e.g., devices left in the freezer). In this way, the amount of human risk and error remains the same.
5. Difficult To Use Unreliable Equipment
Human error can occur most with unreliable equipment, which requires more reliance on human operators and therefore increases labor costs. In this way, when an unreliable device is used for automated testing, one must rely on human operators who must manually input data or use a macro software package in order to resolve the problem.
6. It’s Hard To Get New Equipment Upgraded Or Purchased Automatically
It’s difficult for laboratories to purchase computerized systems with new technology that has arisen since the last system was installed (e.g., an integrated system). This means there are less possibilities for laboratories to get the most updated equipment, which may contain more advanced features.
7. Staff Still Need Training
Whether a device is computerized or not, it requires training on its use and maintenance. This is required for humans to know how to operate the devices properly. However, when working with automated systems, the complexity of programming can make it difficult for some staff members to learn how to use it properly.
8. Difficult To Automate All Tasks In One Circulating System
Not all tasks can be automated in one system because they require different settings and protocols – like different instruments and reagents or different solvents in chromatography analysis. In this way, one must have more than one laboratory device for different tasks.
It is worth highlighting that automation is an ongoing process where new innovations will be coming out. These will include the introduction of various new laboratory devices and software packages that can increase data collection and database management capabilities, as well as reduce time spent on tasks. In this way, greater accuracy and precision can be achieved with automated systems.
For example, some automation systems can analyze results from several different instruments in order to generate a report for management. Additionally, new computerized analytic devices are able to automatically print out reports on-demand when needed. This improves the accuracy of test results and makes them available faster than manually typed data could be printed out.