Working as a medical technologist in the 1980’s

I remember a job I hated but found fascinating at times. It was the 1980’s, and I worked the night shift as a medical technologist in hematology and chemistry. I spent the night looking at blood samples or running a machine to test your Thyroid hormone level.

All the techs prepped their area and waited in anticipation for the first specimens to arrive. We only had 8 hours, so we needed to get right on it or the supervisor was breathing down our necks. We prayed our fickle equipment stayed up and running.

My best friend entered the data as it rolled off the analyzers. When I left the profession, results were only beginning to go straight into a computer. The testing equipment more automated but no less mercurial.

When I left the profession, results were only beginning to go straight into a computer. The testing equipment more automated but no less mercurial.

The IoT has hastened the equipment connectivity

With the pandemic and slow test results, you’d think maybe technology hasn’t improved the lab much. The IoT or Internet of Things hastened the equipment connectivity happening slowly with mainframe computers in the late ’80s. What hasn’t improved much is the personnel shortage.

I edged toward medical technology as a career because you were almost guaranteed a job. It’s a 5-year degree, not an attractive choice for most. It’s challenging to process a pandemic size number of samples with a lack of personnel.

What actually hasn’t improved much is the personnel shortage. It’s challenging to process a pandemic size number of samples with a lack of personnel.

COVID-19 highlights long-standing specimen processing issues

As the number of laboratory tests continues to grow, with genetic testing and now COVID-19, clinical labs require an update. COVID-19 highlights long-standing specimen processing issues. Hangups in this area create a logjam that delays specimen testing.

Avoiding that logjam means using handheld or point of care devices, utilizing Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) software, robotic racks, and pneumatic tubes. Automation of the clinical lab analysis equipment continues, a necessity to keep up with increased testing and fewer medical technologists.

This trend drives the implementation of Lean technologies for continuous improvement. Lean applied to lab design encourages a direction away from batch processing to constant flow, streamlined inventory systems that reduce waste, use of robotic tracks to move specimens, and workbenches adaptable to fit different requirements. It provides uncrowded space to discourage overheating and easy maintenance of the automated analyzers.

Automation of the clinical lab analysis equipment continues, a necessity to keep up with increased testing and fewer medical technologists.

Private labs pivoted, ready to test for COVID-19

Space remains at the premium in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. With a pandemic upon us, adaptability and flexibility remain top priorities. Labs with modular features and open planning invite flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing conditions quickly.

The automation is available, and private labs pivoted, ready to test for COVID-19. Why is testing ramping up so slowly in the US? Lack of cooperation and coordination between the government, our healthcare system, and private labs.

Private labs with capacity for testing took a while to get the necessary certification, and when they did, their computer system didn’t interface with the hospitals’ systems. Even with the IoT, connectivity issues stop progress. It didn’t help that some of the largest private clinical labs promised testing turnaround that proved impossible.

To keep up in this pandemic age, our healthcare system, including our labs, and our government must embrace new secure and connected technology.

Less fragmentation and more cooperation

Our laboratories need to evolve along with our entire healthcare structure into systems that connect easier but securely. We need less fragmentation and more cooperation.

Blockchain is one technology that offers security and connection. A few companies provide healthcare-specific blockchain solutions, but adoption is sluggish. To keep up in this pandemic age, our healthcare system, including our labs, and our government must embrace new secure and connected technology.