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How Transitioning to Automation in the Lab Improves Patient Outcomes

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Obtaining an accurate diagnosis of infection before treatment seems like a simple enough adage for the responsible administration of antibiotics, but in reality, multiple pressures can constrain clinicians’ ability to put this principle into practice. Hurdles such as staff shortages and communication challenges can slow down diagnosis, and ultimately, timely patient management decisions. What can be done to speed up the diagnosis of infections, and relieve some of these pressures?

Delayed diagnosis may impact patient care

Ideally, infections are diagnosed before appropriate therapy is administrated, however, when communication of diagnostic test results are delayed, clinicians may need to initiate treatment prior to having all relevant information. For instance, when a patient presents with symptoms suggestive of a severe blood stream infection, sepsis, medical professionals often do not have sufficient time to identify the pathogen causing the infection or its antibiotic susceptibility profile.  Treating critically ill patients presents extraordinary challenges, as they must be placed on antibiotics immediately, so initial treatment is usually a ‘best guess’, utilizing multiple, broad spectrum antibiotics.

Improving the accuracy of tests, shortening laboratory turnaround time, and delivering accurate diagnostic information is essential to enabling timely and targeted therapeutic and patient management decisions. Unfortunately, many barriers to timely diagnostic information exist; transporting samples to the laboratory, processing specimens, running tests, analysing results, and communicating results to clinicians all represent a significant time component to timely diagnosis of infectious disease. 

An investment worth making

As new technologies evolve in the microbiology lab, automation and informatics-based workflows can help accelerate laboratory processes, enabling both reliable and fast diagnoses while improving test accuracy. Greater use of automation can help improve processes, increase laboratory capacity and staff efficiency, standardize procedures, free up staff to perform other more value-added tasks, and streamline the communication of diagnostic results to clinicians. 

The implementation of these innovative technologies within microbiology and molecular laboratories can provide multiple benefits. Faster diagnoses can enable targeted treatments and contribute to the success of antimicrobial stewardship plans. Faster laboratory turnaround times may potentially improve patient outcomes, and slow the development of antimicrobial resistance, and yield savings across the healthcare system.  In the UK alone, sepsis is estimated to incur cost of up to £15.6 billion every year1 and leads to 14,000 preventable deaths2, according to a 2017 study commissioned by the UK Sepsis Trust (UKST).

Making the transition

Integrating new technologies into laboratory workflows can be a complex transition. Both resource and time investments are required to manage the transformation of end-to-end processes. It is crucial to select a supportive industry partner who will provide guidance and support beyond installation and also provide advice on change management to successfully integrate technology and processes with laboratory staff.

Timely and accurate diagnoses of infectious diseases are essential to helping clinicians manage patients and ensure the most appropriate antibiotic therapy is provided as quickly as possible.  As integrated laboratory automation and informatics solutions are fully adopted, we get closer to the day when all therapy decisions will be made based upon a timely and accurate patient diagnosis.