Address lab shortages by automating routine tasks

Laboratory staffing shortages continue to plague hospitals. To save resources, many labs are turning to automation, allowing technicians to focus on critical areas of the lab to improve quality and accelerate TAT.
Address lab shortages by automating routine tasks

The impact of laboratory staffing shortages

For the past several years, laboratories of all sizes have been fighting an uphill battle: trying to meet patients’ needs while adapting to a shrinking number of qualified laboratory professionals – something that has been decades in the making1 due to a retiring workforce and a declining number of accredited training programs for lab technicians and technologists. The avalanche that is COVID-19 quickly made this difficult ascent far more challenging. Not only did the pandemic increase testing volumes, but now laboratories are also seeing an increased shortage of laboratory staff due to vaccine mandates and employee burnout.2,3

Medical laboratory professionals are the behind-the-scene drivers of diagnoses. In addition to running all of the specialized COVID-19-related PCR tests, they are responsible for blood chemistries, CBCs, and antibody tests used for the diagnoses and treatments of all patients – from pregnancies to terminal cancers. Clinicians rely on the results of laboratory testing, and when there is a shortage of workers, the workers who are there are asked to work longer hours, leading to exhaustion and an increased likelihood of errors as well as potential delays in treatment.4

We currently have a 20% vacancy rate, and this is happening at a time when our laboratory is at its highest volume and the highest demand in its history. So, we're operating under extremely stressful conditions. This vacancy represents 12 fewer lab techs.
Lab Director from a high-volume lab in Illinois

What can laboratories do?

The existing shortage of lab professionals coupled with the harsh realities of the pandemic substantially impacted laboratories of all sizes.

One solution? Automation.

Automation can both reduce costs and increase quality5 and productivity6 of lab staff, helping to lower incidence of human error caused by stress and heavy workloads.

Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System in Mattoon, Illinois has been on a five-year journey to build up its automated laboratory processes.

Decision-makers at the hospital chose to implement a total laboratory automation system with the following configuration:

  • Two centrifuges
  • Two clinical chemistry analyzers
  • Immunoassay systems
  • Hematology workstations
  • Refrigerated units for samples

As a result, they decreased steps in lab processes from 122 to 31 – a >75% reduction – and achieved a more consistent testing process with improved turnaround time.

Hospital-staff-shortage-infographic-blog 

Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System's results exemplify the increased productivity, improved accuracy and decreased costs that laboratory automation can help labs of all sizes achieve – even rural smaller and mid-sized laboratories.

How can Beckman Coulter help?

As your laboratory partner, we can help you transform your lab – improving workflow efficiency and inspiring continuous improvement – across all disciplines: Blood Banking, Hematology, Chemistry, Immunoassay, Microbiology, Urinalysis, Clinical Informatics and Automation. Regardless of the size of your laboratory, our diagnostic products and solutions can help you deliver greater insights and accelerate care.

1. White, Rita. Laboratory automation is no longer optional. medical laboratory observer online. July 24, 2018.
https://www.mlo-online.com/information-technology/automation/article/13017029/laboratory-automation-is-no-longer-optional

2. Nuñez-Argote, L., Baker, D. P., & Jones, A. P. (2021). Initial Clinical Laboratory Response to COVID-19: A Survey of Medical Laboratory Professionals. Laboratory Medicine, 52(4), e115–e124. https://doi.org/10.1093/labmed/lmab021

3. Nowrouzi‐Kia, B., Dong, J., Gohar, B., & Hoad, M. (2022). Factors associated with burnout among medical laboratory professionals in Ontario, Canada: An exploratory study during the second wave of the COVID‐19 pandemic. The International Journal of Health Planning and Management. https://doi.org/10.1002/hpm.3460

4. Beckering, R., & Brunner, R. (2003). The lab shortage crisis: A practical approach. MLO: Medical Laboratory Observer, 35(6), 48-50. https://www.mlo-online.com/home/article/13002441/the-lab-shortage-crisis-a-practical-approach

5. Genzen, J. R., Burnham, C. A. D., Felder, R. A., Hawker, C. D., Lippi, G., & Peck Palmer, O. M. (2018). Challenges and Opportunities in Implementing Total Laboratory Automation. Clinical Chemistry, 64(2), 259–264. https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2017.274068

6. Iqbal, S., Naeem, S., Fatima, A., Dolci, A., Panteghini, M., Sharafat, S., & Zeeshan, F. (2021). Impact of total automation consolidating first-line laboratory tests on diagnostic blood loss. Rawal Medical Journal, 46(1), 228–231. https://www.rmj.org.pk/fulltext/27-1590822180.pdf

Editorial Team
Editorial Team
The Beckman Coulter editorial team brings you timely news and resources focused on elevating clinical laboratory performance and advancing patient care.

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