In years past, automation typically referred to large automation lines that were only economically feasible for large laboratories. Advances in technology have introduced many more automation options that provide benefits for different types and sizes of laboratories. These advances are timely because laboratories face an ongoing labor shortage and must leverage tools that can boost efficiency and productivity.
Lab Automation Defined
Automation is a broad term that refers to equipment or software performing repetitive tasks with minimal human intervention. Laboratory automation can refer to software that incorporates rules to automate workflow, an integrated automation line, or a tube sorter that manages specimen routing. Laboratory automation allows labs to handle a larger test volume and reduce errors that are inevitable when humans perform repetitive tasks.
Laboratory automation solutions are finding their place in the current healthcare landscape because they bring significant benefits. In a short-staffed environment, automation frees up staff for less repetitive tasks, increases overall efficiency and productivity, and allows for more accurate lab activity tracking. Automating laboratory workflows improves the overall testing efficiency by speeding up tasks, minimizing waste, reducing reagent usage, and facilitating higher throughput.
Adopting automation reduces repetitive manual labor and allows labs to upgrade their job roles. By automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks, laboratory professionals can focus on more complex activities, leading to higher productivity. By improving lab productivity, automation has the potential to lessen the laboratory workforce need, which helps manage staffing shortages.
2. Improve Productivity, Efficiency, & TAT
Laboratory automation can streamline workflow and increase sample throughput, which decrease turnaround time (TAT). Interfacing EHRs and analyzers with a laboratory information system (LIS) automates the total testing process and facilitates automated, rapid delivery of patient reports.
Automation can improve laboratory safety from both patient care and lab staff perspectives. Eliminating the errors associated with humans performing repetitive tasks improves TAT and test accuracy. That same elimination can reduce injuries caused by repetitive motions (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist pain). For example, with automation equipment, staff might touch a specimen only once and the system manages the rest of the process.
There will always be variability in quality when humans perform tasks. Because of this, the laboratory has long realized the benefits of standardization. Automation equipment allows for the tracking of all steps of a process, minimizes manual errors, and improves the precision and accuracy of testing. This standardization in turn improves the quality and accuracy of test results.
Automation can minimize manual steps for specimen storage and retrieval. It can also provide quick access to samples that need further testing. Some automated systems can archive samples in trays that are then manually taken to storage, and some automated systems can automate the delivery and retrieval of specimens to and from storage.
A robust LIS can provide automation that tracks every activity performed in the laboratory and automatically generates a detailed audit trail. With easily accessible audit-tracking reports, laboratories can analyze and draw insights from their data to make informed decisions.
To learn more, read Orchard Software’s white paper: Automation Contributes to Laboratory Efficiency: Address Lab Staffing Shortages with Integrated Automation Solutions.
Orchard Software Integration Expertise
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™ supports the Walk Away Specimen Processor (WASPLab), an automated microbiology specimen processing and media plate reading solution that increases the efficiency of microbiology workflows.