New Automated LabSt. Francis Hospital and Heart Center in Flower Hill, New York on Long Island has got a fully automated clinical laboratory, the first of its kind in North America. According to a news report, chief operating officer for CLS Kathleen Luczyk said that this clinical lab is intended to replace older lab equipment, improve efficiency, reduce costs and improve turnaround time.

The $5.5 million facility has been developed by Collaborative Laboratory Services (CLS) which supports all the hospital’s inpatient and outpatient work. Covering an area of 4,200 square feet, the new system can process up to 1,200 specimens in one hour with little or no human intervention. Prior chemistry analyzers were replaced with the state-of-the-art equipment from California based international diagnostics and life sciences technology manufacturer Beckman Coulter.

Clinical laboratories play a crucial role in enabling earlier diagnosis and faster care. Workflow in labs is increasing at a very fast pace, and with budget restraints and a highly competitive environment, they are constantly under pressure to become more productive and cost-efficient. Automation is a key factor in such a scenario.

The fully automated clinical laboratory at St. Francis Hospital is specifically designed with these goals in mind. This new system runs more tests, performs both inpatient and outreach lab testing, operates with fewer laboratory devices, reduces the need for skilled personnel, keeps operating costs low, reduces the use of paper, and enhances operator safety. It combines all major testing areas including chemistry, immunochemistry, hematology and coagulation.

Efficient Workflow and Improved Turnaround Time

The automated system has revolutionized workflow and operates like a manufacturing assembly line. Manual intervention is limited to the initial processes. Specimens of blood and other bodily fluids are sent from any floor of the hospital and ER department via pneumatic tubes. Technicians remove the vials with the specimens and enter the information into a computer connected to the hospital database. The computer generates a bar code with the physician’s instructions on the test to be performed and the bar code is attached to the vial.

Once these processes are over, the robotic system takes over. It picks up five vials at a time, reads the bar code, identifies the patient and directs the sample to the appropriate station. For instance, if a blood sample has to be spun, it is sent to the centrifuge. It is then carried to the hematology analyzer for testing, recapped and delivered to the refrigerator for storage. The system then automatically uploads the results and enters them in the patient’s medical record.

The laboratory staff is aiming to complete most of the testing in 30-60 minutes, half the time taken before the new laboratory equipment came in.

Better Patient Care, Improved Operator Safety

This automated system has enhanced both inpatient and outreach services in St. Francis Hospital. In addition to better care of regular patients and those pending discharge, it allows prioritization of testing, and faster and better care of ER patients and patients in ICU. Bar coding has also resolved patient safety issues by eliminating the chances of sample mix-up.

Automation improved operator safety and also freed up the technologist for other important tasks. Laboratory technologists no longer need to touch samples, which reduces exposure to biohazard risks, or to manually load or move samples from one machine to another for testing.