Suzi Birz, principal, HiQ Analytics, LLC
The pressure to do more with less presents a constant
challenge in health care delivery. The search for a way to increase throughput,
reduce costs and maintain or increase safety and quality led North Memorial
Health Care, in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, to implement the Power Processor
Automated Sample Processing System, manufactured by Fullerton, California-based
Beckman Coulter. The system became the first fully automated laboratory in
“The laboratory processes specimens from the inpatient unit,
as well as provides reference lab services for 188 different organizations
throughout Minnesota,” explained Adam Grau, marketing representative from North
Memorial. “This resulted in a total of more than 5 million blood tests processed
What is an Automated Lab?
Fifty manual steps were eliminated to create a new automation
process. Lab test orders and blood samples arrive by the same method as before
the automation. Each blood sample is labeled with a bar code that contains
information about the specific tests that are needed.
“The sample is then placed on a conveyor belt, which resembles
a train track,” Grau explained. “The machine moves the sample through the
process and performs all the tests with no further human contact.”
Sharon Jackson, North Memorial’s director of lab services,
added: “After being verified, the results are interfaced to the lab system and
are available to the floor.”
Lab Staff Safety
The automation process helps eliminate lost, dropped or
mislabeled samples. While safety precautions for the lab staff have long been in
place, the automation takes care of the steps that pose a health risk.
For example, the device performs automated centrifugation and
automated cap removal. The machine removes the cap from the tube, pours the
blood and recaps the tube.
“The robot reduces the possible biohazard exposures,” Jackson
With all tests seemingly on “stat” priority, how does a
facility determine which one to process first? There’s no need to decide with
North Memorial’s new automation system, which increases the test capacity from
90 to 300 tubes per hour and allows multiple tests to be conducted
simultaneously on one sample. Samples are sorted into storage racks and are
available for subsequent testing.
“While the machine is processing the sample, the technician
can step away to verify the results and communicate to the nursing staff,”
This consistent flow of results and shorter wait time have
increased satisfaction for both caregivers and patients.
“Caregivers are notified faster of the need for recollection
of samples,” Grau added.
Jackson said the change has had an important effect on the
turnaround time for emergency room trauma blood tests, for which results are now
available in just eight minutes. She also noted that with no change to the way
the orders are placed, the way the samples are sent and the way results arrive
to the floor, the only change to nursing is that results arrive quicker and more
“This is a big satisfier for nurses and patients,” she said.
Jackson summarized the top three benefits of the automated lab
system: “Improved turnaround time for the patient, improved safety for the lab
personnel and a decreased chance of reporting results on the wrong patient.”
For more information, visit the Web site of North Memorial Health Care or Beckman Coulter.
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