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Tube-versatile Lab Automation Drives Future Readiness

Tube-versatile Lab Automation Drives Future Readiness

Reducing manual tube processing can help labs ease the path to change

Anthony Barresi

Anthony Barresi is senior manager for automation solutions at Beckman Coulter Diagnostics. In his role, he develops and executes strategies for bringing automated workflow to laboratories throughout the United States...

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Published:Dec 23, 2019
|Updated:Jan 27, 2023
|2 min read
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A busy hospital or clinical reference laboratory may process hundreds of specimen tubes per day. Those tubes frequently vary in weight, sample volume, serum preparation requirements, cap color and more. 

And every variable is a potential source of error. 

Tube-test mismatches, improper labelling, inadequate sample volume for pending orders: These are just a few of the tube-related issues a laboratory may experience daily. In fact, errors that occur in the pre-analytical phase of testing may contribute up to 75 percent of total laboratory errors, with 26 percent possibly having an adverse effect on patient care.

To help mitigate the impact of these issues, laboratories commonly incorporate manual sample tube pre- and post-processing steps into their workflow. This often requires laboratory technologists visually inspecting every tube for issues and sorting them all by hand before and after analysis.

Manual tube processing puts clinical laboratories at a disadvantage. Thanks to the growing expectation for hospitals to “do more with less,” laboratories are receiving greater volumes and varieties of tubes. This generates labor-intensive inspecting and sorting work—which can introduce additional risks of inconsistency and human error. In a future where change is the only constant, laboratories must be empowered to adapt with as little operational burden as possible. 

Laboratories can position themselves for success by automating pre- and post-analytical sample processing steps, for all tube types. 

Tube-versatile pre- and post-analytical automation gives laboratories the power to simultaneously and consistently process almost any type of tube from sample entry to sample archive. This reduces manual processing, which lowers the risk of errors while freeing people resources for higher-value tasks. 

Laboratories that automate pre- and post-analytical processing can enhance their ability to: 

  • Comply with new care guidelines. Changes to patient blood-management standards can prompt institutions to modify their specimen-collection practices and tube usage—and those changes can occur at any time. For example, in 2017, the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety Health Programme in the European Union released guidelines overturning “product-focused” blood collection in favor of a “patient-focused” approach—driving changes to collection volumes and tube selection. Such changes can be easier to implement in the laboratory when tube-versatile pre- and post-analytical sample processing is automated, since automation usually allows policy updates to be accommodated through relatively simple software updates.
  • Reduce errors from tube-related issues. Many mistakes that contribute to erroneous results occur outside the laboratory, meaning laboratorians typically have little ability to prevent them. Reliably addressing and resolving tube-related issues through automation helps laboratories drive consistency and provides greater control over the quality of reporting, regardless of changes occurring elsewhere in the pre-analytical process. 
  • Support growth and advance patient care through greater test volume and variety. Consolidating testing from multiple locations, broadening the test menu, and supporting more diverse populations becomes simpler with tube-versatile automated processing. That’s because automation mitigates many of the challenges associated with these initiatives and gives laboratories the ability to easily manage differences in tube type, sample type and patient population (e.g., low-volume tubes for pediatric patients).

Clinical laboratories are always in search of new ways to support optimum patient care. For those seeking to preserve their ability to deliver timely, robust insights regardless of what the future holds, tube-versatile pre- and post-analytical automation will be critical. Eliminating unnecessary manual processing steps not only help laboratories address the challenges of today; it helps them more easily embrace the change of tomorrow.