Dr Nita Munshi
Director Laboratory,
Ruby Hall Clinic

Expanding Horizons With Emerging Technology In The Laboratory

The laboratory environment has been characterized by ongoing rapid and dramatic innovation since the 1980s. Laboratory technology is often at the forefront of medical advances. Innovation in laboratory technology, which includes both new tests and advances in equipment and testing techniques, has made testing more efficient and automated.

IT has revolutionized the transfer of data by decreasing the time it takes to order and receive test results. Many predict that clinical laboratory technology will play an even more important role in the future delivery of healthcare. These innovations include automation, IT, and laboratory measurement or testing technology.

Automation

Automation has been, and promises to continue to be, an important force in the changing laboratory marketplace. Laboratory automated (and manual) processes occur in three stages:

Preanalytic stage. This includes, choosing the test, placing the order, preparing the patient, collecting the specimen, transporting the specimen, any specimen preparation work, and daily quality controls.

Analytic stage. This involves actual testing of the specimen and all routine procedures up to result reporting.

Postanalytic stage. This is concerned primarily with forwarding results to the appropriate hospital department or physician and routine daily maintenance and shutdown

Information technology

Like many other areas of healthcare delivery, laboratory services are experiencing an IT revolution. Laboratory experts that keep pace w ith emerging IT have found new, more efficient ways to communicate and provide services; educate themselves, market their products; and manage data and information.

Internet-based reporting creates opportunities to communicate test results directly to patients by offering consumers direct access to test results. Only patients who are registered with the laboratory may access their data on-line.

Laboratory measurement and testing technology

Laboratory testing technology advances through both incremental and breakthrough developments. Lab equipment is getting smaller and smaller. This saves a lot of shelf space.

Genetic testing. With the mapping of the human genome, the field of molecular diagnostics, which includes genetic testing, is expected to grow rapidly during the next 5 years.

Genetic tests are able to detect gene mutations. Early detection may allow clinicians to predict predisposition to disease. This is important because genetics are possibly a significant factor in seven of the top ten causes of death. Genetic testing is also used for making prenatal diagnosis, identifying chromosome abnormalities, determining the paternity of a child, ascertaining cancer cytogenetic, and identifying inherited or predisposition to diseases. A future trend in genetic testing is a focus on prevention.

Nanotechnology. Nanotechnology, the science of building miniature devices out of very small particles. Nanotechnology is already used in tests for tuberculosis and colon cancer. Although the potential of nanotechnology is substantial, a great deal of basic scientific research must be completed before clinical applications will be available.

Outlook

Clinical laboratories are in the midst of a technological revolution that is likely to continue during the twenty-first century. Many medical advances will be led by technological innovation in laboratory testing. New technology is positively associated with increased efficiency, reduction in errors, and improved quality in the delivery of health care services. Whether new technologies are implemented may depend on their impact on laboratory costs and, if they are more costly, on payers’ willingness to pay for them. 

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