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Automation in the lab: there is still a lot to be discovered

October 20th, 2017

For over 50 years, automation of clinical analysis has been used to significantly increase productivity and improve the quality of the final results. In this transformation, the most visible component (hardware) plays a minor role when compared with the evolution of the software component, which has reached extremely high levels of performance and sophistication, in recent years.

Since 1995 (when Inpeco introduced the first prototype, at the AACC Conference), Total Laboratory Automation (TLA) is defined as the automatic processing of the entire flow of the analysis, from sample load to its retention and subsequent elimination, thanks to the physical and logical connection to the analyzers, without human intervention, in complete safety and traceability.
In literature, it is estimated that about 0.5% of laboratory tests contain an error (1); which seems like a low number, but it becomes catastrophic if you think of it on a global scale. Test tubes being switched, incorrect procedures, loss of samples: these are the most common cases and, even when there are no critical outcomes, the tests must be repeated, with a consequent cost increase.


The main benefits of the adoption of a TLA System are well known; they allow the reduction of outliers by ensuring a Turn Around Time (TAT) within a limited range, for optimum job scheduling. Therefore, there is more valuable free time for the operators, who can focus on the interpretation of the results produced - after all, this is the main topic in which they specialized their studies and which most directly impacts the patient waiting for the report. Automation makes it possible to carry out laboratory tests efficiently, even during the night and other closing times, when human resources are more difficult and costly to find. The positive impact on laboratory operators also includes better safety levels, given the reduced direct contact with potentially infective biological samples. The progressive consolidation of diagnostic laboratories leads to the increase in daily test volumes, which can only be guaranteed by automation with efficient and traceable processes, that offer concrete possibilities of scalability, as the needs evolve.

In this context, what makes the TLA FlexLab solution by Inpeco unique?

  • The wide range of automation modules (at the moment 17 of them): they make it possible to automatically perform all the routine phases before, during and after the analytical phase, without interruption and thus enabling total traceability.
  • The comprehensive integration range: the Inpeco track can work with over 40 different analyzers of all major specialties, including microbiology. This 'open feature' of the FlexLab Inpeco architecture allows track scalability, as the needs of the lab evolve, e.g. in case of growth or changes in the set of analyzers installed, so that the investment made by the lab is safe for years to come.
  • The unparelled Inpeco expertise in the TLA segment, collected and built inside the 1500 labs that are using its solutions, in over 60 nations in the worlds. The Inpeco TLA systems are distributed by the Business Partners Abbott and Siemens, under the trademarks Siemens Aptio and Abbott Aa3600.
  • Unique in its kind, Inpeco automation can support very complex installations; the system can manage extremely high workloads, above 10,000 samples per hour, and has vertical transportation modules for the sites that are distributed on different floors.

One of the most important Inpeco installations (the Quest lab in Marlborough, MA, USA, sold by Siemens) currently has a 650-foot workflow line, connecting over 40 different analyzers, allowing automated processing of most of the samples received by the lab. The interaction with the operator is guaranteed by a single interface, a real dashboard to control and manage all the modules and analyzers managed by the track.

Following its mission to eliminate human error in diagnostic processes, Inpeco has recently introduced traceability solutions from the very origin of the sample, i.e. the collection point, where the correct matching between Patient ID & test tube is critical, since most laboratory errors occur in this phase. Here, the ProTube system, used in front of the patient at the time of withdrawal, guarantees the correctness of the container used, of its labeling and, if used with any biometric reader device, of the identity of the patient. It’s a sort of pre-pre-analytical ‘module’ that integrates perfectly with the workflow inside the lab rooms. Thanks to this additional ‘module’, Inpeco’s solutions will allow the Clinical laboratory to get closer to the zero errorsgoal, a mandatory milestone for those professionals working in a sector so crucial for our lives.

 

(1) Carraro, Plebani - Errors in a stat laboratory: types and frequencies 10 years later. Clin Chem. 2007 Jul

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