Laboratory automation: Trajectory, technology, and tactics

Rodney S. Markin, Scott A. Whalen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

60 Scopus citations

Abstract

Laboratory automation is in its infancy, following a path parallel to the development of laboratory information systems in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Changes on the horizon in healthcare and clinical laboratory service that affect the delivery of laboratory results include the increasing age of the population in North America, the implementation of the Balanced Budget Act (1997), and the creation of disease management companies. Major technology drivers include outcomes optimization and phenotypically targeted drugs. Constant cost pressures in the clinical laboratory have forced diagnostic manufacturers into less than optimal profitability states. Laboratory automation can be a tool for the improvement of laboratory services and may decrease costs. The key to improvement of laboratory services is implementation of the correct automation technology. The design of this technology should be driven by required functionality. Automation design issues should be centered on the understanding of the laboratory and its relationship to healthcare delivery and the business and operational processes in the clinical laboratory. Automation design philosophy has evolved from a hardware-based approach to a software-based approach. Process control software to support repeat testing, reflex testing, and transportation management, and overall computer-integrated manufacturing approaches to laboratory automation implementation are rapidly expanding areas. It is clear that hardware and software are functionally interdependent and that the interface between the laboratory automation system and the laboratory information system is a key component. The cost-effectiveness of automation solutions suggested by vendors, however, has been difficult to evaluate because the number of automation installations are few and the precision with which operational data have been collected to determine payback is suboptimal. The trend in automation has moved from total laboratory automation to a modular approach, from a hardware-driven system to process control, from a one-of-a-kind novelty toward a standardized product, and from an in vitro diagnostics novelty to a marketing tool. Multiple vendors are present in the marketplace, many of whom are in vitro diagnostics manufacturers providing an automation solution coupled with their instruments, whereas others are focused automation companies. Automation technology continues to advance, acceptance continues to climb, and payback and cost justification methods are developing. (C) 2000 American Association for Clinical Chemistry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)764-771
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Chemistry
Volume46
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 6 2000

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical

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