The University of Virginia Health System has revolutionized how it tests patient blood samples, automating its primary testing facility with high-tech robots that are getting doctors the results they need quickly and efficiently – and allowing UVA to offer a wider range of blood tests, to boot.
Speedy turnaround times for blood tests are often vital for physicians making important patient-care decisions. They can literally be the difference in life and death. “We are known for receiving the sickest patients, and we want to get the correct treatment to them as rapidly as possible,” said Doris Haverstick, UVA’s director of clinical chemistry.
Randy Vandevander, senior manager of UVA’s now-automated Clinical Core Laboratory, noted that in one instance, a doctor in the Emergency Department ordered an additional test after sending over a patient blood sample. When the physician went to check on the expected turnaround time, “it had already been sampled, tested and the tube was back in the [storage] rack here,” Vandevander said. “That’s just how quick the system is.”
“As soon as somebody decides what test they want, they punch it in the computer,” he explained. “Their computer talks to our computer, and it will be done in no time.”
Blood Testing at Warp Speed
With all the equipment in place, the inside of the Clinical Core Laboratory off West Main Street looks a bit like a futuristic bottling plant. Sealed tubes filled with blood march along enclosed conveyor belts to various analyzers, where the machines remove the cap, conduct the necessary tests, reseal the tube and then return the samples to cold storage – all without any human involvement.
Vandevander recalled that some lab workers were skeptical of the automation project at first. Some worried that the robots might take their jobs, but that was never the goal and there have been no job cuts, Vandevander said. Instead, he and other UVA officials wanted to spare the techs the endless hours of carting blood samples about.