Here in Glasgow, Scotland, clinical laboratory directors share successes with TLA and Lean

Use of total laboratory automation (TLA) in clinical pathology laboratories now often involves use of process improvement and Lean techniques. That’s one insight that emerged from a special extended session on medical laboratory automation and process improvement at the Association for Clinical Biochemistry’s  annual Focus meeting in Glasgow, Scotland last week.

As a trend, it shows how process improvement and Lean are becoming important management tools for pathologists and clinical laboratory managers. In vitro diagnostics (IVD) manufacturers have recognized this development and often provide expertise or consulting assistance on process improvement methods to help medical laboratory managers. The goal is to use process workflow redesign and Lean Six Sigma methods to design the most efficient way to handle specimens, then support this work flow with the best laboratory automation solutions.

This session at Focus was chaired by Robert L. Michel, your Dark Daily Editor. The first presentation was Tommy Docherty of Sysmex UK. He offered a succinct review of Lean and Six Sigma, highlighting how pathology laboratories now apply these quality management methods and techniques to different functions and activities in the laboratory.

Next was a case study in the design and implementation of total laboratory automation. Using the theme of “A Tale of Two Cities,” Dr. Paul Collinson, who is head of Clinical Blood Services at St. George’s Hospital and Medical School in London, England, discussed how this pathology laboratory assessed the options for total laboratory automation, guided by the use of process improvement and Lean methods. This was compared against a similar total laboratory automation project that took place at Hospital Clinic Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain.

In both hospital laboratories, a total laboratory automation installation by Siemens Diagnostics was the solution. It was noted that, at both 940-bed St. George’s Hospital and 819-bed Hospital Clinic Barcelona, the total laboratory automation installation and functionality of the two systems were virtually identical. The one significant difference was that St. George’s Hospital did not include coagulation testing on its automated line—and this was because of the procurement cycle for coagulation systems.

Next, the attention shifted to how pathology laboratories can add value to physicians and patients. Dr. Jonathan Berg, Pathology Director at 533-bed City Hospital in Birmingham, England, shared how his laboratory has undertaken a strategy of offering selected new diagnostic assays and molecular tests that deliver added clinical value to other clinical laboratories and providers across the United Kingdom.

To achieve this goal of being a referral (send-out) testing center, the laboratory team is implementing an internal and an external strategy. The internal strategy is to use process improvement, Lean, targeted automation, and similar approaches to achieve improved quality and faster turnaround time for many laboratory tests. The external strategy is to communicate regularly and effectively to other laboratories and providers across the United Kingdom about the availability of these assays and how to order them through the pathology laboratory at City Hospital.

The objective is to support better patient care while contributing to improved patient safety. Berg reported that the pathology laboratory has seen sustained growth in specimens referred by other sources. This increased test volume has help the City Hospital laboratory better control costs and increase the number of tests it performs internally in support of its own inpatient population.

Collectively the message of the speakers during this special session is that forward-looking clinical laboratories are now combining process improvement methods, Lean techniques, targeted laboratory automation solutions, and a continuous improvement mindset to deliver improved quality and added value service to physicians and patients.

Yesterday was the final day for ACB’s Focus Conference. At the closing banquet on Wednesday night, there were plenty of kilts to be seen. Below is a photograph of clinical biochemists in their Scottish finery, along with a fun quiz.

However, your Dark Daily Editor is not yet finished here in Glasgow. Before leaving Glasgow, he is scheduled to tour a pathology laboratory in a local hospital. Here are two clues about the hospital for those pathologists with a keen interest in medical history. This hospital houses some of the anatomic specimens assembled by Dr. William Hunter (1718-1783) and was where Dr. Joseph Lister (1827-1912) practiced medicine and made his findings.

From Glasgow, your Dark Daily Editor,

Robert L. Michel

Send comments to: rmichel@darkreport.com

Related Information:

Regional Laboratory Consolidation and Shrinking Budgets Are Key Issues for Clinical Pathology Labs in the United Kingdom

Focus National Meeting—Association for Clinical Biochemistry

More Dark Daily coverage on the UK

Focus Meeting 2010
Clinical Bio-Chemists in Kilts!

At the Association for Clinical Biochemistry’s Closing Night Banquet at the Focus Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Wednesday, May 12, 2010. From left: Dr. James Allison; Dr. Bill Simpson; Robert Michel of The Dark Report; Dr. John Frater; Dr. Allistair McBain. These gentlemen were members of the Scientific Programme Committee for Focus.

For extra credit: can any Dark Daily readers correctly identify the tartan patterns worn by the ACB members shown above? We will list the names of those who do so successfully.