College of American Pathologists
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CAP Today




March 2013

Microbiology automation Microbiology automation

I read with great interest the story “Triple play in lab’s MALDI-TOF efforts” (January 2013).

Like many of those quoted in the story, I feel this technology will fundamentally change the microbiology lab for the better. It will improve turnaround times, help hospitals meet and exceed the new performance -metrics being implemented by the CMS and the Joint Commission, save money, and, above all, improve patient outcomes.

In your story, The Methodist Hospital, a 1,000-bed quaternary care academic institution that is using MALDI-TOF MS, estimated that the technology could potentially save the hospital $19 million per year. This is achievable by speeding the time to accurately diagnose the patient and to performance of antibiotic susceptibility testing, which helped the doctors and hospital pharmacists pick the right drug as soon as possible for each patient.

However, I must disagree with this statement in the article: “Smaller hospitals might also blanch at the price tag. MALDI-TOF is expensive—about $200,000.” Dr. Musser says: “It’s like a new car. You get a bit of a sticker shock at first, but the downstream cost savings are tremendous. We can no longer do cost accounting with blinders on in the pathology department.”

I am the administrative director of pathology and the clinical laboratory at Dameron Hospital Association Core Laboratory in Stockton, Calif. Our hospital has only 200 beds, but we have invested in MALDI-TOF (we are an RUO site for bioMérieux’s Vitek MS MALDI-TOF system) and an entire suite of automated microbiology tools.

There are two common misconceptions about microbiology automation: It is overly complex and overly expensive. I can tell you neither is true. The Vitek MS, for example, is remarkably easy to run. According to the study at Methodist, a $200,000 investment could result in a $19 million gain—which is a phenomenal ROI. Microbiology automation is the future, for large and small laboratories, and, in my experience, vendors will work with labs to help introduce new technology. Different financing options are available, as are pay-by-test-based purchasing options.

The real question seems to be: How can hospitals, of any size, afford not to make this investment?

Automation and technology like MALDI-TOF will save the microbiology lab, not bankrupt it. In fact, microbiology labs will play a key role in helping their hospitals hit key performance metrics: reduced length of stay, improved antibiotic stewardship, reduced readmission. Microbiology technology will help, not hinder, our efforts to reach these new goals.

Richard L. Wong, CLS, MT(ASCP)
Administrative Director
Pathology/Clinical Laboratory
Dameron Hospital Association
Core Laboratory
Stockton, Calif.

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