Automation plays a very vital role in medical lab technology. It has dramatically changed both analytic and non-analytic aspects of clinical laboratory operations. The word automation is inspired by the word “Automatic”.
Automation means the use of various control systems for operating equipment and other applications with minimum human intervention. It also refers to machines with intelligence and adaptability which reduces workload and continuous supervision. The use of analytical instruments made the job very easy for clinical laboratories as it provides automatic process control and data processing.
Laboratory automation is relatively new. With the advent of information technology (IT) and smarter machines, there is a corresponding increase in the demand for faster results by patients
Need for Laboratory Automation:
- Quantity and diversified: Any lab on day to day basis conducts many tests which are diversified in many specialities ranging from Microbiology, biochemistry, histopathology, clinical pathology, Blood banking, Parasitology, Immunology, virology and many more.
- Steps in Labs: Each Lab tests advised undergo following functional steps in the medical laboratory such as:
- Identifying proper labelling of the sample
- Delivery of sample in proper storage condition
- Preparation of sample for tests within the stipulated time
- Sample loading
- Entering in the register
- Turnaround time: All steps stated above are time-consuming, whereas our physicians expect faster reporting.
- Probability of Medical errors: The repetitive and monotonous nature of the work of laboratory technicians makes them prone to committing mistakes, and more so when the sample load is more.
- Consequences of errors in medical diagnostics may result in a delay in diagnosis, further increasing complications, changing prognosis and limiting the diseases management plans.
- Errors which can be easily avoided are errors related to enrolment; categorisation; determination of samples; sample labelling; selection of test processes; data entry and reports delivery. This is where Lab Automation plays an important role.
Few Examples of Lab Automated processes:
- Sample collection– Automation in blood collection refers to improved, faster and slight pain-causing scientific procedure of collection such as automatic robotic or computerised system, vacutainers. Blood collection with various colour coded vacutainers with additives or anticoagulants, these tubes have a closure which is evacuated to create a vacuum inside the tube thereby enabling a predetermined amount of blood to be withdrawn. The identification of vacutainer is done with the colour of caps used.
- Sample identification by labelling and barcoding – All samples collected have to bear the name and details of the patient along with the unique hospital identity number. The same is used while entering the details in the auto analyzer software. Barcoding or computer-generated bar-coding technology is also used for the identification of the sample. It has the profit that it can be scanned or read by bar code reader accurately so the transcriptional error is avoided.
- Sample analysis – Automation in the analysis process is achieved by using various types of auto analyzers in medical lab technology The systems enable laboratory technicians to produce faster analytical results which allow doctors to make a faster decision and to provide faster treatment to patients.
The benefits of Laboratory automation:
- Affordable Diagnostic test costs-by bringing resource efficiency.
- Faster processing – right from sample collection to produce the result of tests
- Ease of interaction with LIS / HIS systems (Laboratory information systems/ health information systems)
- Value addition to Patient services, by providing the digital copy of reports on their mail.
- Modularity – Laboratory automation systems are customizable to meet the laboratory’s needs.
- Quality work for laboratory professionals: They get more free time to communicate with the prescribing physicians, other lab technicians, Patient themselves and further they can also invest time in research work.
- Eliminates medical errors and improves the accuracy of results and improves reproducibility.
- Automated Medical records digitalization which can be saved and retrieved in future.
- Easy to bring quality-oriented Medical Lab procedures.
We need to understand here one thing the automation of diagnostic lab experimentation is no replacement for human involvement or skilfulness. Results still need to be evaluated by medical technologists and other qualified laboratory professionals. What automation does is to ease the workload, reduction in manpower requirement, reduction in report timings, and provide additional security. At last, Automation is the backbone of healthcare delivery system.