Gap between supply and demand for Medical Laboratory Technologists (MT) encourages greater use of laboratory automation

If there is a Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of pathologists and clinical laboratory managers, it is the largest workforce shortage in the history of the medical laboratory industry. For 2011 and beyond, demand for skilled medical technologists (MT) and clinical laboratory scientists (CLS) will far outstrip supply.

Today, many hospital and health system laboratories operate short-staffed. They are unable to recruit and retain even the number of staff positions that are authorized and budgeted. In cases where a thriving hospital laboratory outreach program is generating substantial annual increases in the volume of specimens to be tested, the medical laboratory’s inability to recruit the additional MTs and CLSs required to handle this work creates a high-stress environment for everyone in the laboratory organization.

The reality of today’s lab labor shortfall is captured each year when The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) releases its “Wage and Vacancy Survey of U.S. Medical Laboratories”. The latest survey was published in LABMEDICINE. In the latest study, the authors wrote that “Nearly one-half (43%) of clinical laboratories across the nation reported difficulties hiring personnel. Hiring qualified staff was considerably more challenging in hospital-based laboratories than in laboratories located in other types of facilities (65% versus 51% or less).”

A Tale of Two Solutions Achieving Balance in Automation: Optimizing Time and Staff

A Tale of Two Solutions Achieving Balance in Automation: Optimizing Time and Staff

The ASCP medical laboratory labor report concluded that, “a shortage of qualified laboratory staff, trained to perform tests that make early disease detection possible or enable physicians to diagnose and treat medical symptoms, seriously compromises patient care and safety.”

Lab Automation is One Solution

Dark Daily has identified three primary strategies that clinical laboratories and pathology groups are using to respond to the shortage of qualified MTs, CLSs, and Medical Laboratory Technicians. (MLT). These strategies are:

  • Expand the future supply of Med Techs and Clinical Laboratory Scientists by supporting laboratory technology training programs at community colleges, colleges, and universities in the region. This can include direct financial support, along with offering the on-site training that is part of the two-year and four-year curriculum.
  • Improve the productivity of existing staff by the ongoing use of Lean, Six Sigma, and process improvement methods. The key to this approach is to identify ways to improve workflow that free up the need to use skilled laboratory professionals to do rote or manual work and instead permit these staff members to spend more of their time on higher value-added tasks that directly draw upon their skills and experience in laboratory medicine.
  • Implement laboratory automation solutions as a substitute for manual labor. Appropriate use of integrated workstations, automated analyzers, and total laboratory automation (TLA) all make it possible to re-assign the lab’s most skilled staff members to responsibilities that contribute much higher value.

Dark Daily has covered laboratory automation on many occasions in the past few years. In “Felder Predicts Clinical Laboratory Automation to Become Faster, More Efficient,” Robin A. Felder, Ph.D., publisher of Medical Automation and Professor of Pathology and Associate Director of Clinical Chemistry at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, observed that lab automation had reached a “mid-level maturity” and posed the question, “What’s next?”

Robin A. Felder, Ph.D. , publisher of Medical Automation

Robin A. Felder, Ph.D., publisher of Medical Automation (photo: www.medicine.virginia.edu)

To help Dark Daily readers answer that “What’s next?” question, a new White Paper titled “A Tale of Two Solutions Achieving Balance in Automation: Optimizing Time and Staff” has been made available for FREE download on Dark Daily’s website at darkdaily.com/laboratory-product-reviews/a-tale-of-two-solutions-achieving-balance-in-automation-optimizing-time-and-staff-211.

The White Paper was developed by an industrial engineering company that evaluated a number of immunoassay systems, and how their automated capabilities are being used by medical laboratories to slash average test turnaround time, improve the quality of analytical results, increase the productivity of staff, and create more efficient workflow that allows the clinical laboratory to accommodate and test ever-higher volumes of specimens.

Nexus Global Solutions (Nexus) is a consulting firm that specializes in performance improvement for product developers (healthcare corporations) and end-users (laboratories). Nexus conducted an industrial engineering study of two immunoassay systems by observing their daily use in different medical laboratories. The two systems they objectively evaluated were:

Each generation of laboratory automation solutions provides additional capabilities and an improved return on investment (ROI). Over the past decade, these added capabilities have encouraged a growing number of clinical laboratories to acquire and implement automated solutions. This newly-issued White Paper on immunoassay automation, compiled by experienced industrial engineers, provides data on how the performance of these systems can contribute to improved workflow which, in turn, helps improve the productivity of the laboratory staff.

—Michael McBride

Related Information:

Update on the laboratory workforce-shortage crisis

Automation in Immunodiagnostics

Wage and Vacancy Report: Laboratory Workforce Shortage Reaches Crisis

ASCP Wage and Vacancy Survey of U.S. Medical Laboratories

Felder Predicts Clinical Laboratory Automation to Become Faster, More Efficient

THE DARK REPORT recent clinical laboratory automation coverage