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Automated Robotic Specimen Handling

New System is Demonstrated to Be Faster, More Accurate

By Mahul B. Amin, M.D.
Chairman, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

The laboratory specimens for each and every patient of the medical staff have truly moved closer to the front of the line.

In June 2007, the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine installed a fully automated robotic specimen handling system. Known as the MPA ("Modular Pre-Analytics"), this unit accepts specimens in the original collection tubes, separates serum or plasma from the cells, and makes appropriate small aliquots that are then sent directly to a series of automated analyzers.

Fully automated testing includes most common tests of the type found in basic and complete metabolic panels, as well as a variety of hormones. We anticipate adding basic coagulation to this list by August. In addition, the MPA provides prepared aliquots that are placed in racks and are ready for manual delivery to instruments not currently part of the fully automated line.

Automated specimen handling of this type has been demonstrated to be both faster and associated with fewer errors than conventional manual approaches.

It also allows a true change in specimen handling philosophy. In the past, an attempt was made to prioritize all specimens with regard to urgency. This process has become progressively more difficult as CSMC inpatient, outpatient and outreach programs have continued their dramatic growth. We believe a better solution lies in the significant improvement of handling and processing for all specimens, something that the MPA will allow us to achieve.

This installation required a simultaneous major upgrade to our Laboratory Information System software. In addition, due to significant laboratory space limitations, these changes were superimposed upon an in situ remodeling of our main operations laboratory, all without allowing an interruption of current service.

The complexity of these three projects has not yet allowed the full benefit of the MPA to be realized. However, we look forward to steady progress in the coming weeks. When fully operational, the system will provide for volume growth and timely results delivery in a period in which the need for laboratory professionals of all kinds is expected greatly to exceed the supply.