With increased demand for tests, an ageing population and high worker turnover, diagnostic labs are under pressure and struggling to keep up.
The benefits of lab automation for diagnostic testing
Lab automation reduces pressure on workers, increases productivity and enhances quality
Fortunately, today a number of technologies have been developed to address these challenges – in particular, automation technologies. Automation can revolutionise the way labs work, as the technology brings with it a number of important benefits, from increased scalability to better quality results.
In this article, we take a look at the key benefits that lab automation brings to clinical labs. But first, we’ll consider what lab automation is today, and what options are available for diagnostic testing.
What is automation in a clinical laboratory?
Automation is equipment that can be used with minimal human intervention. Today, automation technology is generally used to reduce the pressure on humans to conduct repetitive tasks.
In a clinical laboratory setting, automation equipment enables lab workers to perform many of the processes involved in diagnostic testing with limited intervention. Lab automation equipment can generally process more workload with less manpower. It also reduces the errors associated with repetitive tasks being performed by humans.
What is lab automation software?
Lab automation software is the programmes or operating systems that replace the repeatable digital processes and manual interventions in a lab.
Lab automation software ranges from simple programs to complex operating systems that help automate anything from a single task within a lab, to providing the digital infrastructure of an automated lab facility. At their essence, they enable users to input a set of commands and output data as a consequence of inputs and the actions that the software enables. Lab automation software reduces the need for manual inputting of commands and improves data capture as well as analysis.
What is total workflow automation?
Most automation technologies today only automate a certain process in the lab. However, total workflow automation goes a step further and links multiple processes and workflows to automate entire assays.
Total workflow automation normally encompasses both the hardware and software sides of lab automation, combining into an integrated system that automises preanalytics, analytics and post-analytics. In a clinical laboratory, total workflow automation systems may process, test and store specimens autonomously while lab workers are able to operate the process remotely.
What benefits does automation bring to the lab?
Here are some of the key benefits of automating diagnostic testing:
Increased productivity and scale
Lab automation equipment is typically able to operate much faster than human workers can. Therefore one of the key benefits of lab automation in diagnostics is that it helps labs increase their output considerably. This allows tests to be analysed at a scale far greater than humans can manage and increases the speed at which results can be turned over, improving patient outcomes.
When human workers are relieved of repetitive processes like pipetting or scanning barcodes, they can focus on other tasks, allowing them to multitask and increase productivity.
Lab automation software can also help streamline assays considerably by enabling you to standardise and control your workflow with ease. It also allows you to repeat previous experiment set ups exactly, saving yet more time.
Increased walkaway time for staff
As well as increasing productivity for staff, lab automation also improves the quality of their work life. Scientists often spend years gaining their degrees, only to find themselves doing repetitive, dull tasks day in, day out. As a result, there is a worldwide shortage of trained lab workers as they leave the sector in droves.
With automation, staff can take a step back from equipment and focus on the research and problem-solving skills they spent years honing. Time away from repetitive tasks also means that repetitive strain injury, a common condition among lab workers, is limited.
Processing clinical laboratory specimens comes with a risk of contamination. Equipment can also be potentially dangerous and cause accidents. However, automation technology reduces the amount of time that workers are exposed to hazardous environments, and increases your lab’s productivity as the time spent on safety protocols is reduced.
Social distancing can also be easily ensured with automation, a critical factor for many labs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More reliable results
Human error is one of the biggest causes of unreliable, low quality results in the lab. But automation technology does not make mistakes. In fact, automation is as accurate when it conducts the first process as it is when it conducts the thousandth. This means more accurate results in diagnostic testing, and more reproducible results for labs more generally.
Lab automation software also automatically inputs data into reports, reducing the number of errors in manual reporting.
Saves money, space and resources
It used to be the case that automation technology was too expensive, large and complex for anything but the biggest, best-funded labs. But as automation technology has become more advanced, it has become more affordable, easily-integrated and accessible.
As a result, considering all the benefits we have covered, today’s automation solutions come with real money and time savings. Learn more about the kind of automation solutions there are available for diagnostic testing.
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