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How to automate diagnostics processes

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Lab automation in diagnostics can help labs scale testing, improve speed and enhance quality. Here's how to get started.

29th November 2021Caitlin Stanway-Williams

Diagnostics has been under increasing pressure for years now, and today it’s clear that wide-scale innovation is necessary to keep up with the pace and scale of the requirements.

Automation, having already begun to revolutionise entire industries, is one of the most effective ways for pathology labs to stay on top of today’s healthcare needs. But how can labs begin the automation process?

In this article, we identify how automation can help diagnostics labs improve efficiency and quality, and how they can get started on their journey towards laboratory workflow lab automation.

Why automation is critical for diagnostics today

Increasingly, diagnostics has become a critical tenet of healthcare. Today, it’s estimated that 70-80% of all healthcare decisions affecting diagnosis or treatment involve a pathology investigation. And an ageing population, plus increased access to, and innovation within, medicine, has meant that, each year, pathology labs are stretched further and further.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated demand to unprecedented levels. Meanwhile, even as demand escalates, pathology lab workers are leaving the sector in droves, with fewer skilled lab workers available to take their place.

As a result, the diagnostics sector is struggling with several crises:

  • It’s becoming impossible for human workers to process the scale of tests needed today, and labs are routinely missing targets
  • Under the mounting pressure, the quality of results is decreasing
  • The time it takes for results to be processed is increasing
Diagnostic graph
Number of NHS patients waiting 6+ weeks for a test result. (Source: 'Diagnostics: Recovery and Renewal', NHS England)

However, automation technology in the lab can increase the scale, quality and efficiency of diagnostics results, resulting in better patient outcomes and less-stretched labs.

With automation technologies, diagnostics labs can:

  • Hugely reduce human error, improving the quality of results
  • Reduce the time it takes to process tests
  • Increase walkaway time and staff safety
  • Reduce the chances of cross contamination
  • Save time, money and resources, while improving patient outcomes

In the rest of this article, we share our guide to automating your diagnostics lab, and how to find the right automation partner.

 

How to automate diagnostics labs

The first – and most vital – step in automating your pathology lab is putting together a cohesive plan. Automation projects can often be derailed by a lack of focus, and in order to get value and success from your investment, you need to be clear on what your requirements are.

Here is a simple guide to automating the diagnostics process that you can use to start implementing automation technologies in your lab:

How to automate your diagnostics processes

diagnostics processes_infographics

1. Understand why you want to automate

For your automation solution to be effective, it needs to target pressing issues in your pathology lab. Common motivations for automating diagnostics include:

  • Quality control problems
  • Cost issues
  • Staffing shortages
  • Capacity concerns

By fully understanding the scope of the problem, you can better understand what success will look like for your lab.

2. Plot out your workflow

Next, map out the standard operating procedure for the processes you want to automate. Performing time trials and quality monitoring will help you to understand things such as:

  • How long does it take for a human to conduct the process?
  • How many mistakes does a human make doing this task?
  • How many tests can human workers perform in one day?
  • Are there parts of your process that create delays or impact quality?

3. Map tech against desired outcome

Once you know your processes, map this information out against your automation needs and the outcomes you want. For example, you may have set a target of 10,000 tests a week, but you’re currently falling short by 5,000. Once you have identified this gap, you can better understand what available technology will help you reach your goal.

 

4. Engage with potential partners

Just because you have found a technology that should address your needs does not mean that you have found the solution. The reality is that the most significant factor in the success of any automation project is the partner you work with.

Therefore, it is good practice to engage with several partners and speak to them about your requirements to see what’s available for you. To identify the best partners, here are several important things they should do for you:

  • Visit you on-site to understand your specific needs
  • Help with the whole automation process, rather than just a slice of it
  • Create a solution that’s flexible enough for your changing needs
  • Provide excellent customer service and ongoing support
  • Help you fill in the blanks around what a machinery and automation solution should look like
  • Provide transparency around price and lead times

The process of choosing a partner can be challenging, so we will cover it in more detail in the following section.

 

5. Compile a business case for automation

Before automating your lab, it is important to pull together a business case for automation so you can clearly map progress and understand the ROI on your automation investment. You should bring all the stakeholders involved into this process.

A business case is unique to each lab, but there are a few general things that are worth considering:

  • The financial impact of the investment
  • How scalable your automation solution will be
  • How much employees experience and safety in the lab will be improved
  • The support model the partner provides

How Automata Labs works with you to ensure quality in diagnostics

At Automata, we believe that it is time for lab automation solutions for diagnostics labs that are easy, adaptable and affordable enough to revolutionise healthcare.

That is why we have developed our lab automation platform, Automata Labs. Automata Labs enables clinical labs to expedite diagnostic testing by combining tried-and-tested lab equipment with robotic automation technology.

Comprising proprietary hardware, single-platform software and a world-class service, we partner with you to take the hassle out of automation, empowering you to achieve more reliable results faster than ever before.

Total workflow automation

With the diagnostics process automated from start to finish, human error is removed and the quality of lab results is significantly improved, resulting in better patient outcomes and reproducibility.

Speak to our team today to learn more about our diagnostics lab automation solutions.

Diagnostics & Pathology
Nucleic acid testing for diagnostics
For labs that focus on diagnostics, discover specific use cases to show how you can automate and scale your testing capabilities.
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