BHS gets high-tech upgrade to make testing blood faster

August 5, 2020 Cranberry Local News

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Butler Memorial Hospital became the first in the country to use new technology that automates lab testing using a conveyor system and artificial intelligence.

“It’s very exciting to be on the cutting edge, said Dr. Robert Patterson, BHS medical director for pathology and laboratory medicine. “This is an important step in our continuing efforts to bring the very best medical care to the Butler community.”

The hospital installed the DxA 5000 designed by Beckman Coulter, a global leader in clinical diagnostics in Brea, Calif.

Patterson said the new equipment makes blood tests run faster and more efficiently by reducing the number of steps from 32 to four, eliminating a lot of manual aspects of the tests.

“We do literally millions of blood tests here a year,” he said.

By using the equipment for one million tests, it removes 28 million opportunities for error, making the system that much more accurate.

“An awful lot of errors can occur with specimen handling. It often occurs before the tubes even get here,” Patterson said. “Any manual steps you take leaves room for error.”

The system is highly automated, even from the start. Test tubes have been color-coded for many years to indicate the nature of the test that needs to be run.

Once the tube is loaded into the compartment, artificial intelligence is able to gather information about the sample and its needs based on the cap and label. In just three seconds, the computer system can also figure out if there is enough blood or “material” in the tube for the test.

“The idea is to stop the process early up there if the specimen is not adequate, and the other is to speed up the entire process and get things done as quickly as possible,” Patterson said.

From there, the tubes take a ride on a conveyor belt where they are delivered to the correct testing apparatus.

If the patient whose blood is inside the phial needs another test, the doctor submits the request, and the computer can figure out whether enough material is in the tube. If there is, then the tube is sent to the proper testing equipment to await a specialist to run the test.

Patterson said the equipment will affect a lot of the tests done every day, and it will also have an impact on the COVID-19 antibody tests.

However, the COVID-19 viral test would not go through the system. The viral test is done through a nasalpharygeal swab and involves a polymerase chain reaction test to identify an active virus.

“We started (looking into this system) long before anyone was aware of what COVID-19 was,” Patterson.

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