Embracing a Remote Clinical Lab
Remote technology allows some staff to work from home while the lab remains fully operational
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented interest in hybrid and remote working environments. Many clinical labs have established a "new normal" and are now incorporating work flexibility into the future of their business.
Some tasks such as preparing and running samples require lab equipment and the presence of lab technicians. However, staff and management can complete quality control, task supervision, and training processes from an off-site location.
By taking advantage of a remote work environment, clinical laboratories may be more likely to succeed under challenging circumstances, including widespread global events and on-site emergencies that can disrupt or shut down operations. In addition, workers can potentially move to lower-cost areas, reduce commuting costs, and live closer to family and friends.
Whether you are looking for remote technology or are already managing remote employees, here are some tools that can help your clinical lab embrace remote work.
LIMS as central hubs for managing the modern clinical lab
According to Astrix’s 2020 Market Research Report on laboratory information management systems (LIMS), more than 75 percent of life science facilities surveyed use at least one LIMS within their laboratory. With a cloud-based LIMS hosting samples and reporting data, laboratories can digitally record and track metadata, results, workflows, and instruments while offering flexibility for employees.
A cloud-based LIMS enables staff to work from home to conduct data-orientated processes, including completing experiment write-ups, releasing batches, viewing trends, analyzing lab data, and aggregating information for regulatory dossiers.
"By taking advantage of a remote work environment, clinical laboratories may be more likely to succeed under challenging circumstances."
Modern LIMS software such as the STARLIMS unified solution1 and the Thermo Scientific Watson LIMS2 provides a comprehensive set of core LIMS features and functions and a rich set of extensions and integrations with external systems. They can connect to enterprise systems as well as laboratory systems, including electronic lab notebooks, laboratory execution systems, and scientific data management systems.
If the LIMS solution has a mobile application, staff, field scientists, and managers can access laboratory data on the move, see and authorize results, workflows, and reports, and remain up-to-date with laboratory activities via tablet or smartphone.
The ability to access LIMS data from anywhere also offers clinical laboratories the opportunity to expand their working hours and attract staff in different geographical areas while remaining fully operational and compliant.
Augmented reality for remote training and task supervision
Augmented reality is an emerging technology that offers a dynamic alternative to traditional training. This immersive technology provides risk-free environments and scenarios that allow employees to sharpen the skills needed for working in the lab.
For example, the advanced smartglasses Holo4Labs3 facilitate remote training of employees through augmented reality. A result of the cooperation between Solution4labs, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Microsoft, this mixed-reality software optimized for lab use won the Emerging Europe Award for Innovation in 2019.
"Augmented reality is an emerging technology that offers a dynamic alternative to traditional training."
Holo4Labs integrates with Thermo Fisher Scientific SampleManager LIMS and assists lab technicians in their daily work with step-by-step guidance. While wearing the smartglasses in the lab, staff can see instructions on the interface and identify the exact stage of each lab process.
Staff can also refer to the digital model to learn procedures in a safe space before even entering the laboratory. Because the interface guides scientists and technicians through laboratory processes, it can improve safety and the level of comfort in performing lab procedures.
With Holo4labs, teams can virtually interact or train by exchanging files, sharing holograms, and drawing notes and diagrams in the virtual space. Furthermore, the smartglasses also record videos, take snapshots, and capture the complete process history.
The tool also enables supervisors to see what their technician sees regardless of their current location. As a result, management can track processes from outside of the lab, supervise operations, and provide help and instructions to workers remotely. In addition, leadership can evaluate employee performance with greater accuracy.
The level of automation offered by this modern solution helps lab workers use their time more efficiently while limiting their physical presence in a laboratory.
Remote monitoring and management
Real-time remote monitoring of equipment parameters and components allows the identification of potential deviations from norms and helps operators make key decisions on device use. In addition, it enables proactive planning of service activities to avoid workflow interruptions.
Equipment monitoring software continues to improve, with modern systems recording data securely in the cloud for unlimited storage capacity and remote access by multiple users.
PerkinElmer’s PKeye™ Workflow Monitor is an example of a cloud-based solution that allows laboratory employees to remotely manage and monitor their PerkinElmer instruments and workflows in real-time.4 The platform offers scientists and researchers 24/7 access and visibility of their laboratory operations.
“With the PKeye Workflow Monitor, researchers can confidently walk away from their laboratory instruments without concern of disruptions to productivity or throughput,” said James Atwood, general manager of applied genomics, PerkinElmer, in a recent news release. “Through instant notifications and remote web access, this platform provides users with confidence that their samples are moving efficiently through extraction, quality control, and liquid handling processes.”
"Equipment monitoring software continues to improve, with modern systems recording data securely in the cloud for unlimited storage capacity and remote access by multiple users."
The Siemens’s Guardian Program for diagnostic and interventional imaging equipment is another real-time monitoring system.5 Based on artificial intelligence prediction and proactive services, it remotely detects and responds to Siemens equipment performance deviations. As a result, laboratories can keep systems at peak performance and avoid having to reschedule patients or lab exams.
“Having this program allows us to concentrate 100 percent on the patient. It monitors our systems the same way we monitor our intensive care patients,” said Michael Uder, MD, from University Hospital Erlangen, Germany, who was quoted in a recent Siemen’s brochure about the Guardian Program.6
The future of lab work
As clinical laboratories begin to look beyond the coronavirus pandemic, remote work is not only an expectation but a new reality for many clinical businesses. The younger generation of employees expects more flexibility and a hybrid work model can help labs fulfill that expectation.
Clinical lab leaders and professionals must continue to consider how to make remote work simpler, safer, and more efficient. Aside from making remote work possible, networked and cloud-based digital solutions help labs centralize data storage and produce better, faster, and higher-quality clinical results.