Leaders in the laboratory need to view total lab automation as a tactic, else they may be putting time and resources at risk, according to Dr. James Donnelly, the technical director at the National Reference Laboratory in the UAE. In this case, he defined ‘tactic’ as specific actions undertaken to achieve a strategy, while ‘strategy’ is the action plan that takes laboratory professionals where they want to go.
Dr. Donnelly was among the top speakers at Medlab Middle East 2023 where he led a session titled, “Making the most of laboratory automation” under the banner of Managing technology and innovation.
Total laboratory automation is being able to move workflow from point A to point B faster without affecting research data and samples. This concept can be applied to virtually any type of lab besides traditional clinical chemistry labs, such as haematology, immunology, microbiology and infectious disease diagnosis. However, total laboratory automation is a costly process.
“Laboratory automation is a very expensive and laborious process, which is why we need to identify the reasons to opt for it, rather than do it because we think it is expected of us great thing to do. Without the tactic, we would simply be wasting time and resources,” Dr. Donnelly said.
Addressing lab directors and those responsible for laboratory operations and administration, he advised selecting one or a combination of approaches to ensure successful automation in the lab. This involves a focus on staff resource drivers, quality, safety and supply chain.
Dr. Donnelly explained that this includes looking at reallocating staff and implementing a standardisation of practices from a staff resource perspective. We also need to look at the multiple labs that are operating under different quality systems and standard operating procedures (SOPs), non-standardised instrumentation and non-harmonised results, as well as reducing the number of vendors and distributors in the supply chain.
Dr. Donnelly further broke total lab automation down into two areas — people and processes— as crucial parts of sustainable implementation.
“We need to look at current skillsets and what future skillsets would look like. Essentially, you would want to have the right mix of people and skills that you could transition or reallocate to other areas where they would benefit,” he said.
In terms of workflow, professionals should focus on pre- and post-analytic steps, informatics, menu as well as existing dependencies and workarounds. He also highlighted that improving turnaround and efficiency can come at a later stage in the system and should not be the primary focus during transition.
Visit Medlab Middle East 2023 to attend thought-provoking sessions led by industry experts from across the globe.