Seven steps for increasing efficiency in diagnostics

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Explore the many methods diagnostics labs can employ to improve efficiency in their processes

8th December 2021Caitlin Stanway-Williams

Improving efficiency in diagnostics has never been more important. The increasing reliance on diagnostic tests for an increasing number of treatments, an ageing population with greater access to healthcare, and the Covid-19 pandemic have all driven demand to unprecedented levels.

Take the NHS for example. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of patients waiting 6+ weeks for a diagnostic test more than doubled, growing from under 20,000 to over 40,000. These statistics came the year before COVID-19 saw the diagnostic testing requirements for UK pathology microbiology labs alone jump from 300,000 a year, to 300,000 every single day, according to the The Institute of Biomedical Science.

Diagnostic graph
Source: NHS England

This extraordinary uptick in demand led the NHS to conclude that ‘major expansion and reform of diagnostic services is needed over the next five years to facilitate recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and to meet rising demand across multiple aspects of diagnostics’.

Of course, the NHS diagnostics service is not the only one that is under pressure. Diagnostic labs across the globe are facing the same skyrocketing demands. Meanwhile, the skills gap in diagnostics is making hiring lab workers even more difficult.

In order to meet this demand, and use resources as effectively as possible, it is critical that diagnostic labs employ methods for improving efficiency.

In this article, we outline some of the best ways to improve diagnostic efficiency today.

 

Seven steps to increasing efficiency in diagnostics

1. Automate your diagnostic lab

Automation technology – from single pieces of equipment such as a liquid handler, to laboratory workflow automation solutions – is the most effective way to increase efficiency in diagnostics.

Automated equipment is extremely effective for several reasons:

  • Automation can conduct the repetitive processes involved in diagnostics at a greater speed than a human
  • Automation can reduce the human error that will occur when lab workers conduct laborious tasks for hours on end
  • Automation can identify opportunities for streamlining workflows
  • Automation makes it easier to access more data
  • Automation makes it easier to track samples
  • Automation makes diagnostics more cost effective

By investing in automated lab equipment and protocol specific processes, diagnostic labs can hugely reduce inefficiencies in labs, while giving lab workers more walk away time from repetitive processes to focus on the tasks that really matter.

Learn how to use automation to improve efficiency in diagnostics

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Automata's laboratory workflow automation solution

2. Organise your diagnostic lab

Implementing a solid organisational strategy to track and trace each sample is important to maintaining the efficiency of your lab. There are a number of ways to keep your diagnostic lab organised, popular methods include:

  • Documentation
  • Colour coding labels
  • Barcoding

3. Outsourcing tasks

Many laborious, repetitive tasks within a diagnostic lab can be outsourced, leaving your lab workers with more time to focus on the scientific strategy and research they were trained for.

Processes which are commonly outsourced include:

  • Barcoding and labeling
  • Packaging of labware
  • Printing
  • Testing

However, depending on how variable your information and products are, it is not always possible to outsource.

 

4. Use cloud technologies

Using cloud technologies rather than continuing to use paper can be a simple, but incredibly beneficial, way to enhance efficiency. Not only does it make it easier to organise information and keep it safer, it also means that multiple locations can utilise the same data.

With speedier information sharing, labs can analyse equipment and associated data across the globe, using this information to improve efficiencies or determine if there is open capacity for a specific test or need.

5. Invest in new tech to future proof your lab

With more and more innovative lab technology coming to market each year, a great way to improve efficiencies and future proof your lab for upcoming demand is to invest in the latest technology. Technologies such as automation, the Internet of Things (IoT) and radio frequency identification (RFID) can all help efficiency enormously.

However, since technology moves so fast in this space, it is also important to do your research, and invest in equipment that will not simply become obsolete in a year or two.

 

6. Integrate your processes

Integrating your processes to make equipment work together and communicate will increase efficiency in your workflows, while at the same time making them less prone to problematic errors.

The more processes in your lab that are integrated and working together, the faster your diagnostic testing will be.

 

7. Establish clean environments

The final method for improving diagnostic efficiency is perhaps the most straightforward, and you will be doing already, yet it is also one of the most effective: Keeping your laboratory environment clean and uncontaminated can be an easy way to increase efficiency.

By ensuring all your labware is processed and stored in a clean and controlled environment you can limit any corruption to your processes. This will maintain the integrity of your lab operations and improve the quality of your results, and patient outcomes as a result.

READ MORE: How to use automation to improve efficiency in diagnostics

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