Hematology laboratories around the world face similar operational and organizational challenges. A shrinking workforce, increasing testing volumes and case complexity, and manual processes are among the virtually universal barriers to efficiency and quality service.
So what are clinical labs doing to overcome these challenges? What strategies are effective and sustainable?
Increasingly, the answer is digitization. Digital workflows provide cost-effective and time-saving solutions to the most common bottlenecks in the hematology lab today. Here’s a closer look at seven of those solutions.
With the latest full-field digital technologies, PBS reviews are faster, slides don’t need transport, and consultations can happen remotely and instantly. Workloads can be easily balanced across sites and shifts because once a digital PBS scan is complete, the images can be reviewed anywhere. By optimizing utilization, backlogs disappear without the need for additional staff.
Digital workflows create efficiency that both relieves the need for new staff and the low morale that goes with it.
Relieving staff pressure and bottlenecks at ZLM
At the Center for Laboratory Medicine in Switzerland (ZLM), converting manual workflows to a digital system immediately saved about .10 FTE per day in the lab by speeding reviews and opening up capacity through remote work.
With Scopio Full-Field imaging, ZLM was able to eliminate travel time by digitally replicating remotely everything lab teams can see and do with a manual microscope. With a digital workflow, remote staff can pan and zoom on any area or cell on the slide exactly as they would in the lab. The system provides AI decision support to quickly count and analyze cells of interest, and staff can annotate observation and share images with experts anywhere. As a result, the most frequent tests in the hematology lab take half the time. Teams complete analyses faster, with more confidence and consistency, and they consult and collaborate remotely. In the digital age, this is how every lab and lab network should operate.
Covid-19 showed the world the importance of remote work capabilities. Having laboratory experts review and analyze slides through the secure hospital network can decrease sample review time and help patients receive a diagnosis sooner, leading to faster initiation of treatment.
To speed throughput, digitization is the solution. Eliminating manual microscopy, slide transport, and the need for on-site consultants accelerates every PBS review and diagnosis.
In addition, simply reducing the need to physically transport slides is transformative in the lab setting.
As with many networked labs with a limited number of specialist experts, ZLM centralizes its expertise at its hub location, where the most experienced staff are available to review anomalous samples. Before digitization, if a PBS review at a satellite lab required a secondary consultation, the slide had to be physically transported to the main lab, which could take anywhere from one to 18 hours.
After hours, the problem was even more complex. When experts were not on-site to manually review slides, the final report would frequently be delayed until the next day. This was the case even for PBS reviews originating at the main lab, where lab staff would have to email a snapshot of the slide image to the expert on-call, adding about 35 minutes to the slide turnaround process. Often, the image did not provide enough information for the reviewer to make a confident report, so would wait until they could manually review the scan back in the lab.
With full-field digital workflows, analysis takes half the time and none of the travel. Transmission of full-field images is instantaneous, and the reviewer has all the information required to make a confident diagnosis and report.
But digital processes supported by artificial intelligence are helping to bring new standardization to even the busiest lab environment. Scopio’s AI-guided decision support helps every technician rapidly count and analyze cells in a consistent, repeatable, and traceable way that is always human-affirmed. Staff can analyze millions of cells at once and use AI for instant cell detection, pre-classification, and suggested cell counts.
Not only does this support speed reviews, it means every review at every lab site can start at the same standardized baseline with highly accurate AI decision support for detection, classification, and estimation. AI does the heavy lifting at digital speed, so humans can make assessments efficiently and in a consistent and repeatable way.
Sourasky Medical Center simultaneously reduced staff costs and backlogs.
By optimizing its weekend workflow to allow for remote digital microscopy for PBS analysis, the hematology laboratory at Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center saw dramatic reductions in TAT throughout the weekend and virtually eliminated the backlog of samples on the first weekday.
Simply reducing the weekend backlog enabled the lab to eliminate one eight-hour shift at the beginning of each week. Even accounting for the added overtime hours accrued over the weekends, the laboratory saw a net cost benefit and a net reduction in staff hours.
“People are often reluctant when you try to implement a new system, but with Scopio it was different,” says Lukas Graf, Head of Clinical Chemistry, Hematology, Immunology and Consultant Hematologist at ZLM. “As soon as we had the first machine in the lab, everyone wanted to try it. They were so excited and still are. They all see the value and how easy it is to handle.”
Your people are ready for change in the lab
Hematology, like many fields of medicine, is moving towards a digital transformation where data is the key to diagnostic insights and building an effective plan of treatment. While this is an exciting evolution that brings with it incredible opportunities for improved clinical capabilities and improved patient outcomes, labs must be willing to adopt digital technologies and workflows. The rewards for doing so are clear.
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