Total laboratory automation is considered by many as a technological breakthrough. However, when put to the test, will it improve or hinder healthcare?
In this article, we’re going to outline the pros and cons of total laboratory automation whilst exploring whether or not it can improve healthcare provision.
What Is Total Laboratory Automation?
Total laboratory automation is the process of implementing a system that automates and streamlines various aspects of a working laboratory.
From streamlining sample handling and data management to simplifying reporting, it is believed that total laboratory automation (TLA) can significantly improve the day-to-day tasks of a laboratory.
Total laboratory automation is already a popular concept amongst clinical chemistry and haematology labs and has been rolled out in laboratories around the world.
It is also becoming increasingly common in clinical microbiology labs, with various specialist companies offering TLA programmes that are tailored to each lab.
What Are The Benefits Of Total Laboratory Automation?
Like most technological breakthroughs, total laboratory automation has a range of benefits. For example:
- Reduced costs (in the long term) – evidence now suggests that although total laboratory automation is expensive to roll out, the system will save laboratories money in the long run. Aside from reducing the manual workforce (and therefore the wage bill), TLA reduces the number of manmade mistakes, which can be extremely costly.
- Improved efficiency – by automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks, a TLA system can significantly improve efficiency, allowing a lab to reduce its turnaround time and improve its overall productivity.
- Improved accuracy – total laboratory automation allows for more accurate testing results as it reduces the inconsistencies and questionable results caused by human error. Studies have found that a medical laboratory with a TLA system in place can reduce the number of lost specimens by 50%.
What Are The Drawbacks Of Total Laboratory Automation?
Unfortunately, there are some downsides to total laboratory automation, including:
- High initial costs – implementing a TLA system is a significant investment due to the high costs of sourcing and installing the equipment required. To accommodate the implementation, a laboratory may have to consider the cost of environmental modifications, powerful air conditioning units and even soundproofing. The ongoing costs of maintenance and supplies should also be taken into account when planning for a TLA system.
- Initial lab disruption – implementing a total laboratory system is not a quick or easy task. It requires significant planning and time to create and implement a system that is tailored to the requirements of the lab. The installation of the new hardware will also take up space, which may already be limited in a smaller laboratory. Initially, these processes can be incredibly disruptive to the everyday process of the laboratory.
- Loss of team members – like most technological breakthroughs, total laboratory automation will reduce the manual workforce. For most laboratories, losing team members is usually a challenging setback and can lead to a lack of experts trained in specific laboratory technologies.
Can Total Laboratory Automation Improve Healthcare Provision?
Yes! Considering the range of benefits that come with total laboratory automation, it is safe to assume that having a streamlined TLA system in a clinical microbiology lab can significantly improve healthcare provision.
By reducing the risk of human error in sample handling and testing, test results will be more consistent and accurate. Similarly, by streamlining lab processes, turnaround times can be reduced, meaning healthcare providers will have results quicker and will be able to treat patients promptly.
The increased capacity is also beneficial as it allows healthcare providers to test and treat high numbers of patients, which is particularly important when there is a health crisis, such as COVID-19.