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Making your med tech minutes count

Chemistry analyzers for medium-and high-volume labs

July 2003
Anne Ford

When a medium-or high-volume laboratory chooses a chemistry analyzer, throughput is frequently first on the priority list—but it may soon take second place to walkaway time. There’s no getting around it: “There’s fewer and fewer staff to do more and more work,” says Denise Pastore, Bayer clinical chemistry marketing manager. “And the med lab tech schools aren’t really filling up, so there’s nobody to replace them.”

With the instruments in the latest lineup of chemistry analyzers for medium- and high-volume labs, manufacturers continue to provide high throughput and extensive menus. But the technologist and technician shortage has turned the focus to new features designed to make the most of workers’ time and abilities.

Labs are using automated systems to skirt the personnel shortage, says Dade Behring marketing manager Bonita Kushernick, but she cautions that sample accuracy can be sacrificed when replacing technologists with robotics. “These systems decrease the technologist’s involvement with individual samples,” she says, “and sample interferences can easily be missed.” Dade Behring’s Dimension RxL Max, introduced late last year, offers labs “smart processing” of samples and testing for common
sample interferents.

Olympus America, meanwhile, hopes to conserve staff time through instrument standardization. “There are several hospital group labs that have a mix of our AU400e, AU640e, and AU2700 analyzers,” says Olympus Diagnostic Systems Group marketing director Bruce Gernaey, “and they
are capable of moving staff from site to site depending on their personnel needs. The analyzers all have the same user interface, the same standard values; they use the same reagents, the same controls. It decreases your training time.”

Labs can look for another labor-saving feature on Olympus analyzers later this year: device relationship management. “This is actually connectivity of analyzers through the Internet through the hospital network to an Olympus server,” Gernaey says. “There’s continuous monitoring of the instrument’s sensors, and we can track it over a long period of time and see if certain shifts start to take place.” If the manufacturer detects a possible problem with the instrument, it can take action before a lab worker has to spend time on maintenance.

David Heibel, director of product management marketing for Beckman Coulter, agrees that remote diagnostic capabilities, available on several Beckman Coulter instruments, can conserve worker hours. “Recently, one lab director shared with us a story about how our ProService remote diagnostic technology helped with the labor shortage in his lab. Previously, every time an instrument went down, he had to take people off the floor and move them to perform maintenance on the instrument,” Heibel says. “Now he’s saving hours and hours of technologist time by having this technology in place.”

Another way to use worker time more efficiently, says Heibel, is to eliminate a time-consuming, repetitive task: uncapping tubes. “When workers do that in the lab, it can be several hundred samples per hour,” he points out. “And when you’re doing anything that repetitive, you always have the opportunity for injury.” Beckman Coulter’s Synchron LX20 Pro chemistry analyzer and LXi 725 chemistry-immunoassay system “are the only such systems on the market to feature closed-tube sampling,” says Heibel. “All a worker has to do is take the tube and drop it into the instrument. You’re saving hours of tech time and ensuring a safer work environment.”

But amid this flurry of features targeting the lab worker shortage, manufacturers aren’t neglecting the other needs of medium- and high-volume laboratories. Abbott’s newest analyzer, the Architect ci8200, features multidimensional sampling technology designed to maximize throughput and reduce repeat test time. With the new technology, “the samples aren’t processed in a line; they’re elevated and immediately moved to the location that the test needs to be processed within the system,” says global marketing manager Dan Stredler. “The unique retest sample handler allows operators to easily access sample tubes and move them to other workstations. There’s no hindrance—for either operator or instrument—to any access to any tube at any time.”

Meanwhile, Bayer’s Advia 1650 and 2400 analyzers have several features designed to conserve laboratories’ resources while maximizing their test options. “We store over 32,000 tests photometrically on our systems because of the microvolume technology we use,” says Pastore. “We also have 90,000 ISE tests that we guarantee, which provides a tremendous amount of walkaway capability.” She adds, “The reagent consumption is minimal on the 1650 and even less on the 2400.”

Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics will soon offer labs “improved labor optimization and advanced result security” with a new product offering, says Christine Forst, marketing product manager for clinical chemistry. She’s looking forward to FDA clearance of the Vitros 51FS analyzer later this year. “We are enhancing our current menu offering with what is being called MicroTip technology. This technology increases our menu offering while still not requiring any plumbing. This continues to be a benefit because you don’t have to be hooked up to a major water system. You can literally unplug the system, move it, and plug it back in. You don’t have to build a lab around it,” she says.

CAP TODAY’s lineup of chemistry analyzers for medium- and high-volume labs includes, in addition to those mentioned here, Abbott’s Architect c8000 and Abbott Aeroset; Beckman Coulter’s Synchron CX9 Pro, LX20, LX4201, and LX4201 Pro; Clinical Data’s Vitalab Selectra-E; Dade Behring’s Dimension RxL Integrated; Olympus’ AU400, AU640, AU5421, and AU5431; Ortho-Clinical’s Vitros 950, Vitros 950AT, Vitros 250, and Vitros 250AT; and Roche’s Cobas Integra 800, Modular, and Integrated Modular Analytics. Vendors supplied the information listed. Readers interested in a particular analyzer should confirm that it has the stated features and capabilities.

Anne Ford is CAP TODAY senior editor.