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Overcoming Challenges in Clinical Microbiology Labs with Informatics and Automation

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Clinical microbiology laboratories can play a critical role in the fight against infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance. At the recent European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Madrid, a number of solutions were showcased which could improve labs' workflows and productivity.

We spoke to Steve Conly, Vice President & General Manager, Microbiology for BD Diagnostics Systems, to learn about some of the challenges facing clinical microbiology labs, and how informatics and automation solutions can help overcome these.

Anna MacDonald (AM): What are some of the main challenges facing clinical microbiology labs?

Steve Conly (SC):
Today’s microbiology labs face unprecedented challenges. They are forced to do more with less by processing rising specimen volumes due to lab consolidations, while they experience a shortage of skilled lab technicians, and increasing cost pressures. Meanwhile, laboratories must adapt in an environment with evolving standards and available technologies. For example, more rigorous accreditation requirements and validation of new MALDI and molecular technologies can mean that laboratorians must spend time away from clinical work. A lack of access to data and performance analytics, can further exacerbate this challenge by preventing them from truly understanding the full scope of their resource needs so that they can continuously provide more accurate, reliable and timely results to clinicians and physicians.

Anna MacDonald (AM): How can informatics and automation help to overcome some of these challenges?

Automation and informatics are critical to helping overcome these challenges faced by microbiology labs. Microbiology lab automation technologies can automate time consuming, error prone and manual tasks in order to increase lab efficiency, helping labs to provide higher quality and more accurate results faster. These technologies can free up precious labor resources so that skilled staff can be allocated to higher skilled and more technical tasks, while the lab processes a higher volume of samples.

Lab automation is helping to transform the microbiology lab workflow by automating plate selection, barcoding, inoculation, streaking, transportation, incubation and imaging. Digital images allow lab technicians and microbiologists to review plates anytime, anywhere, including remote locations and offer the ability to build algorithms that can automatically provide results without human intervention.

Informatics tools also enable seamless connectivity between the Laboratory Information System (LIS) and other lab instruments. These tools help labs create an integrated workflow with a single user interface and provide laboratorians with access to real-time data and analytics. Cloud-based informatics systems also allow data to be aggregated across labs from the same network, helping with performance benchmarking, analysis and standardization of protocols. Modern informatics systems also ensure that the latest data privacy and cyber security requirements are met, while providing on-demand access to information, reports and analytics which can improve lab productivity, reduce errors and shorten time to results.

AM: Can you tell us about the BD Synapsys™ microbiology informatics solution and some of the benefits it can bring to clinical microbiologists?

The BD Synapsys solution is a secure browser-based solution that provides 

secure scalable connectivity for different BD diagnostics instruments within a lab and across a network of labs
an intuitive customizable user interface to help manage and streamline instrument and lab workflows while creating rules to automate workflow steps
actionable insights about lab performance through user configurable reports and on-demand analytics
anytime, anywhere access to lab workflow and data

These capabilities enable labs to expedite decision making, drive standardization within and across labs, improve productivity, shorten turnaround time and simplify compliance.

AM: How are BD products helping to tackle antimicrobial resistance?

BD offers products that aim to prevent and diagnose infections, as well as monitor infection so that health care providers are better equipped to deal with patients who have resistant infections. Together, these practices can help ensure antimicrobials are utilized appropriately, reducing risk to patients and lowering costs associated with drug resistance.

Preventing infection in the first place is the best way to prevent someone from contracting an antimicrobial resistant infection. BD offers a range of tools to improve infection prevention practices. Examples include tools for integrated vascular access management, standardized surgical preparation procedures, and safe drug delivery and blood drawing practices.

Diagnostic testing is critical for identifying the type of microbe causing the infection and understanding whether it may be susceptible to antibiotics. The use of diagnostic tests help doctors know which antimicrobial treatments to prescribe that will most likely lead to the best patient outcome. BD offers diagnostic products for accurate patient screening, such as the BD MAXTM system and its assays, and for rapid detection and identification of infectious agents and precise susceptibility testing, such as the BD BACTECTM FX automated blood culture instrument, BDTM Bruker MBTTM rapid identification system, BD PhoenixTM M50 instrument and BD Phoenix panels, including the new CPO detect test.

Finally, BD provides tools to help hospitals implement mechanisms for surveillance and monitoring of infection. These tools can help health care providers be better alerted when there’s a patient with a resistant infection so that the patient can be quarantined to prevent the spread of that pathogen in the hospital or community.

Steve Conly was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Science Writer for Technology Networks.

Steve is the VP/GM - Microbiology within Diagnostic Systems, responsible for leading the Blood Culture, ID/AST, TB, Industrial Microbiology, Lab Automation & Informatics franchises. The BD microbiology products and services support the detection of blood stream infections, rapid identification and susceptibility testing of pathogens, and integrated automation and informatics solutions for the diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of Sepsis, TB and other infectious diseases.