UVA Health System's automated lab speeding up blood tests

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- High-tech robots are helping doctors get blood test results more quickly at the University of Virginia Health System.

According to a release, the technology has revolutionized how blood samples are tested, automated the primary testing facility and allowing the hospital to offer a wider range of tests.

Fast turnaround times for blood tests can be vital for doctors.

"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, PhD, UVA's director of clinical chemistry.

The process connects the doctors' computer systems to computers in the lab, so when a test is ordered, the two systems work together.

In the Clinical Core Laboratory, sealed tubes containing blood samples move along enclosed conveyor belts to various machines that can remove the cap, conduct whatever tests are required, reseal the sample and return it to cold storage, all without any human involvement.

Randy Vandevander, senior manager at the lab, says the hospital system wanted to spare the techs from hours of carting samples around.

"Somebody was centrifuging samples. Somebody was then taking those samples and moving them to an analyzer. Somebody then had to return the samples to storage," he said. "So really, we've eliminated a lot of that sneaker traffic, so hopefully it allows our techs to not wear out their knees and joints quite as quickly. Our technologists can get back to doing what they were trained to do, and that's looking at the results that are coming up on these analyzers."

Vandevander also says finding well-trained, top-tier technologists is a challenge, so the automated lab may help.

"Nationwide, there's like a 14-percent shortage of clinical laboratory scientists, and those are the backbone, degreed individuals who are doing the testing," he said. "So this helps buffer that a little bit for us."

Thanks to the automation, UVA can also conduct more tests in house rather than sending samples away for less common tests.

Sending samples to other facilities, such as places in Minnesota, adds to the time it takes for the tests to be conducted and the results received.

But the new lab allows the health system to add new tests as needed, speeding up the process and potentially reducing costs.

Faster testing will also help the system deal with a growing patient population.

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