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Staffing shortages and demand for rapid turnaround time (TAT) continue to increase, pressuring laboratories to seek tools that boost efficiency. Automation is one way that laboratories can improve their performance. Microbiology laboratories, with more manual processes and slower TAT, can particularly benefit from automation.

What does “automation” mean for laboratories?

Broadly, automation refers to equipment or software that takes over repetitive tasks with minimal human intervention. Laboratories are adopting automation solutions because they bring significant benefits. In a short-staffed environment, automation frees up staff to handle more complex tasks, increases overall efficiency and productivity, and allows for more accurate tracking of lab activities.

Automation equipment helps streamline and error-proof complex workflows. Robotic systems, laboratory information system (LIS) software, and workflow automation tools are effectively used within labs to manage data and standardize processes.

Why is automation important for microbiology?

Automation in microbiology is especially beneficial due to microbiology’s need for highly skilled laboratory professionals and longer TAT associated with microbial growth. Microbiology is historically a labor-intensive specialty, so any advantage that can speed and automate those processes can improve efficiency. In addition to fewer errors and faster TAT, automation can help improve antimicrobial stewardship and provide greater traceability.

Alongside increasing testing volumes and staffing shortages, these factors have led to the greater adoption of automation in microbiology laboratories.

What types of automation are used in microbiology labs?

Modern technologies (e.g., mass spectrometry, liquid transport media, molecular techniques, automated identification and susceptibility systems) have allowed for greater microbiology standardization. Other technological advances (e.g., culture plate imaging digitization, electronic reading of incubation plates) have also helped introduce automation to microbiology, offering significant advantages.

Examples of microbiology automation systems include:

BD Kiestra: This laboratory automation system offers standardized and scalable solutions for inoculation, incubation, plate imaging and reading, and follow-up testing.

Copan Diagnostics WASPLab®: WASPLab is a modular, scalable, and customizable specimen processing, culture incubation and workup system for microbiology. Specimens move from front-end processing to smart incubation. Digital microbiology with artificial intelligence and interpretive algorithms is used for automatic plate reading.

Graphic showing  a WASPLab positive and negative workflow

How are automated solutions connected to your LIS?

Laboratories that decide to leverage automation equipment must work with an LIS vendor to integrate those systems within the laboratory workflow so that data is aggregated, and sample processing and test reporting are part of the automated process. Integrated automation solutions support laboratories as they operate within an interoperable healthcare solution.

What does the future hold for automation?

Automation can help manage increasing workloads, reduce errors, and improve laboratory efficiency, helping labs adapt to an industry staffing shortage. In the current healthcare landscape, with a shrinking workforce, adoption of automation technology that improves lab efficiency allows labs to continue to mitigate challenges and contribute to the best patient care.

Read more about the efficiencies offered by automation in Orchard Software’s white paper: Address Lab Staffing Shortages with Integrated Automation Solutions.

How can Orchard Software help?

Orchard Software has more than 30 years of expertise in integration. With the understanding that automation equipment is essential for many labs to achieve efficiency, we have steadily worked to integrate those solutions as part of an interoperable enterprise solution. We currently offer interfaces to Roche cobas® and Beckman Coulter automation solutions to help labs with those systems reach peak productivity.

Orchard® Enterprise Lab integrates with the Walk Away Specimen Processor (WASPLab) for microbiology laboratories. Orchard Enterprise Lab works with WASPLab to place orders, complete setup tasks, receive observations, and send preliminary or final reports. Orchard Enterprise Lab automatically updates the Microbiology Work Card in tandem with workup tasks. If WASPLab detects a positive culture, the technologist is alerted, and the culture can be worked up directly in Orchard Enterprise Lab.