Total Laboratory Automation
Total Laboratory Automation (TLA) is an automation system for the performance of highly repetitive tasks in the Laboratory. It replaces human operators in the preparation and transport of specimens, with robotic devices. Laboratory automation consolidates the control of multiple different analytical instruments to a smaller number of operators, thus reducing the costs in laboratory testing.
Benefits of Laboratory automation include reduction of human errors in specimen handling, improvements in overall process control, and faster turn-around-times (TAT) from specimen collection to test result reporting. Most clinical laboratories in order to face the falling reimbursements for medical services, will soon face a decision about implementing Total Laboratory Automation (TLA) or portions of it, to reduce operating costs.
Many clinical labs worldwide are converting to total laboratory automation, based on strong evidence that automation not only heightens profitability but also improves quality, timeliness, and lab flexibility. A grate percentage of hematology and routine clinical chemistry tests are completely automatically analyzed.
Total Laboratory Automation empowers labs to:
• Meet changing needs with agility
• Streamline operational efficiency
• Advance workflow capabilities
• Improve productivity at justified cost.
Laboratory testing has grown to an instrument-centric, high-volume clinical engine inside the healthcare laboratories. Instruments have grown both in size and scale and lines of automation for laboratory samples bring fast and accurate routing of specimens to specific points in the laboratory work flow. Automation solutions are beginning to extend their footprints into other areas of the laboratory such as microbiology and molecular diagnostics.
Pre- and post-analytic portions of the laboratory work flow comprise all of the necessary steps to accept a clinical specimen into the laboratory for testing, processing to prepare the sample for testing, and the steps for final disposition of the specimen. The typical pre-analytic work flow involves some form of specimen identification like accessioning and labeling -if not already done, followed by routing to the correct laboratory section.
As the specimen nears the instrument for testing, other processing steps like centrifugation, de-capping, and aliquoting can happen in an automated fashion to prepare the sample for testing. After testing, the specimen can be re-capped and sent off for long-term storage. These typical steps in those work flows surrounding the test are shown below:
As a manual process, the pre-analytic phase alone is estimated to have consumed 60% of the time and effort in the total specimen work flow. The estimates of the contribution of pre-analytic error to total laboratory error range from 30% to 86%.
After Instrument Automation and LIS usage in the Lab laboratory automation based on conveyor belts, and programmable robots created the first automated laboratory the door was opened for the expansion of automation outside the confines of the instrument to reach the pre-analytic and the post-analytic work flow.
The LIS systems have grown to end-to-end platforms that govern the entire business process and work flow of the laboratory. These IT systems are now mission-critical to the operation of a laboratory and must work in concert with instruments and automation for a laboratory to be successful.
The pre- and post-analytic automation solutions are present in one of two varieties: open and closed. Of the two, closed automation is the more common. Closed automation solutions are those that are provided by instrument manufacturers and typically connect only to instruments from that vendor. And unless a single vendor has instruments in multiple parts of the lab, closed automation solutions exist as islands of automation around their specific parts of the lab.
Open automation solutions exist independently from the instruments in the laboratory. These solutions are built by independent companies and interface to the instruments and the LIS to automate the pre- and post-analytic work flows.
Open automation lines are able to interface to any instrument, regardless of the vendor. This independence from a specific vendor allows open automation systems to transport specimens across various parts of the lab and provide a single automation solution for the entire laboratory.
Automation is a ‘must have’ for any clinical laboratory. The current climate for reimbursements for laboratory testing has only increased the importance of automation, with further reductions that push laboratories to optimize laboratory throughput and quality, to keep up with the increasing demands.