With economic constraints forcing laboratories in all fields of science to make critical decisions around expense control and staffing levels, automated products can help laboratories improve work flow and be more efficient. This is especially true within the clinical diagnostics industry, which has shown a push toward more sophisticated automation technologies within the past few years. For example, sample-to-result automation for molecular assays has become more and more prevalent, with multiple manufacturers developing product offerings to meet this need.
There are two basic reasons for the required advances in automation within clinical labs: a shortage of trained clinical technicians and more complex testing protocols. Intuitively, more complex testing would seem to require more qualified workers, but in fact, automation fills the labor gap to make the opposite true. Automated systems can perform tests with more repeatability and allow technicians to be more efficient as they can complete other work while performing an automated test.
In addition, automation allows trained professionals to use their skills to analyze and react to information as opposed to performing repetitive tasks necessary to complete assays. Lab technicians, like everyone else, are prone to make mistakes when performing repetitive tasks. Removing some of those tasks from their work flow helps make them more accurate and, therefore, more efficient.
Not to be overlooked is the impact of health-care reform. Reimbursement rates from health insurance companies for molecular lab tests have been and will continue to be pushed lower. Lab managers know this and are planning for it, so they are looking at automation as a tool to lower their overall costs.
Of course, automation comes at a price. Lab managers will need to analyze the long-term benefits over the short-term costs. Criteria to scrutinize include: acquisition cost of the equipment; setup and validation of instruments; and the costs for each test, controls, reruns, service, and labor.
Generally, though, the positives of automation outweigh the negatives. For instance, economists cite automation-based efficiency improvements as a major explanation for why U.S. economic output has grown since 2007, even while the number of jobs has fallen. Successful businesses are the ones that optimize their automation capabilities to improve efficiency.
To learn more about work flow efficiency in clinical laboratories, feel free to visit www.rheonix.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gregory Mouchka is Product Manager, Engineering & Applications, Rheonix, Inc.