The robotic revolution is upon us.
At UCHealth, our multi-million dollar robot train allows us to run the top 50 types of test results as “stat.” This means when the blood arrives in the lab, it takes about 10 to 15 minutes tops to run the blood test and report it into the EHR so that doctors and nurses can act on that information.
This robot combines with a fancy multi-channel pneumatic tube system that spans across multiple buildings, and transports blood samples drawn from patients in our Cancer Center about a quarter mile away. Furthermore, our nurses print pre-barcoded labels specific to the patient and the request lab order, so there’s no mix up during transport.
The three technologies together make it so that the process from lab draw to test result is typically less than 30 minutes. Compare this to the “old way” of human transporters who walk around between buildings every few hours collecting specimens, and lab technicians who run tests in batches, by hand, with lots of error-prone human transcription. You’d be lucky to see an 8 am blood test return a result by mid-afternoon.
This is amazing on many levels, and so few people know about it. I bring students, residents and colleague down for a show-and-tell tour any time that I can.
Our lab technicians simply transfer the pre-barcoded tubes from the pneumatic transport canister to the robot intake rack. An articulated arm with a camera spots the tube, grabs it, scans the barcode, puts the tube in a carrier slot on the railroad, and sends it down the track to the right machine in real time.
Once at the machine, the centrifuge has six slots. At busy times, all slots fill up quickly and the spin begins. If there’s a backlog, additional tubes are re-routed to an alternate machine to start a new load in-parallel. If there aren’t enough samples to run a full load after five minutes, water-filled tubes are selected automatically to fill empty slots and the centrifuge runs. Brilliant!
Sometimes tubes are needed in separate machines with different processing needed. The robot is smart enough to split off and label “daughter tubes,” pipette out the right quantity, and send each one to the right destination.
At the end of the line, lab tubes are stored in the automated Stockyard for 3 days in case of needed “add-on labs.” The seamless interface between the EHR and the lab system allows ordering physicians to be reminded, “Do you want to add your new order to the existing specimen?” If yes, the robot retrieves the blood, runs it back up the railroad, processes the new order, with no human intervention.
This one idea has saved 30,000 repeat lab draws on patients in ONE MONTH at our University hospital. Astounding. Faster for doctors receiving important results, cheaper for the lab, one less “stick” for patients.
A true win-win-win.
This piece was originally published on The Undiscovered Country, a blog written by CT Lin, CMIO at University of Colorado Health and professor at University of Colorado School of Medicine. To follow him on Twitter, click here.