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KU Hospital opens automated lab

The KU Hospital has become the first hospital in the Kansas City area to open a fully automated medical lab, bringing a new level of safety, speed and accuracy to the 2.6 million blood tests the hospital performs each year.

"This state-of-the-art system will ensure to a greater degree than ever before that the hospital's lab performs the right test for the right patient and produces the right result in the fastest possible time," said Lowell Tilzer, the hospital's medical director of clinical laboratories. "When time is of the essence, faster, more accurate lab results will help ensure a better quality of care for our patients."

The new lab employs a high-tech system that uses bar code technology, robotics and conveyer belts to transport each blood sample, contained in a test tube, to the appropriate testing instrument.

Without anyone touching the blood sample, the system can uncap and recap each test tube, place it in a centrifuge, perform the test, store the blood for additional testing, evaluate the results and report those results, which the physician can access immediately.

"This is the latest example of our significant investment in quality patient care. That has been our focus and has led to us becoming one of the top academic medical centers in the country in terms of our care and patient safety," said Irene Cumming, president and chief executive officer of The KU Hospital.

Tilzer said that although this is the first lab of its type in the area, within a few years, this type of automated robotics system will become standard operating procedure around the country. This will happen, he said, because the system:

Allows physicians to get test results, diagnose patients and provide treatment more quickly; can reduce by half the time it takes to diagnose drug overdoses, diabetic shock, medication-related seizures and other life-threatening conditions, meaning for some patients, the difference between life and death; significantly reduces the risk of laboratory technologists' exposure to pathogens; addresses the increasingly critical shortage of laboratory technologists; and allows the hospital to process more lab tests at reduced costs.

Before the lab was installed, a typical blood test could take 1-3 hours depending on staffing, backlog and the nature of the tests. Turnaround time now for a typical eight-test panel is 30-45 minutes from start to finish, no matter the time of day or night.

Tilzer said the new equipment will also make retrieving samples much easier if additional tests are required. Samples will be stored for several days in a refrigerated "stockyard" at the end of the line that holds 3,000 tubes. The machine knows the exact location of each tube and can retrieve them within seconds. "We used to spend a lot of time looking for tubes," he said.

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