The importance of automation in hematology hardly needs to be stressed. Modern automated hematology systems are designed to meet the needs of high volume laboratories. They can measure several analytical parameters such as White Blood Cell (WBC) or leukocyte count, lymphocyte percent and number, mononuclear cell percent and number, granulocyte percent and number, Red Blood Cell (RBC), hemoglobin (Hb) concentration, hematocrit, mean corpuscular (erythrocyte) volume, hemoglobin concentration, red cell, platelet (PLT) or thrombocyte count, and more. Incorporating a wide range of parameters on one instrument minimizes the need to run one sample on several parameters.
Take the Abbott Cell Dyn fully automated analyzers. These multi-tasking systems are capable of producing several hematological parameters. Using dual technologies – Multi-Angle Polarized Scatter Separation (M.A.P.S.S.) as well as impedance, the Cell-Dyn 3500R automated hematology analyzer provides the basis for a five-part WBC differential. Primary white blood cell count, all differential information, and reticulocyte analysis are provided using M.A.P.S.S., while additional information in the presence of fragile lymphocytes and hypotonically resistant red blood cells are provided by impedance. Abbott’s automated hematology analyzers also allow labs to perform a wide range of clinical applications and a high volume of CBCs and differentials per year.
Automation minimizes or does away with the need for manual intervention. Even semi-automation involves steps like the dilution of blood samples and allows for the measurement of only fewer variables. With a fully automated system, all that is required is an appropriate blood sample.
Errors are a major issue with manual counting. There are problems with cell recognition such as distinguishing lymphocytes from monocytes and these may be overestimated or underestimated. Other sources of error with manual counts pertain to distribution of cells on the slide and statistical sampling error. One the other hand, automated cell counters ensure a high level of precision and accuracy for cell counting and cell sizing.
Automated leuckocyte differentials significantly reduce the time and cost of performing routine examinations. Many automated analyzers also have the ability to make and stain slides. With automated microscopy, the system scans each slide uniformly and presents the images on a computer screen, in an enlarged format if necessary. This minimizes manual microscopic time as well as variations in scanning pattern. State-of-the-art hematology analyzers also come with on-board storage for thousands of patient reports and even allow for customization of these reports with patient identification and color histograms.
Regardless of the advantages offered by the automation of lab testing, evaluation of results by qualified clinical laboratory professionals is still essential. However, automation undoubtedly allays concerns about errors, staffing, and safety.