Automated Hospital Lab Helps OU Doctors

Sunday, September 30th 2007, 7:15 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An automated laboratory is helping shorten the time from when doctors order screens and tests to when results are known.

The lab at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center is unlike most hospital labs, in which technicians must touch vials of blood or other items being screened numerous times as tests are conducted.

For most tests and screens done in the automated lab, the technicians need to touch those items only once. After that, high-tech gadgetry including conveyor belts, shakers, centrifuges, bar-code scanners and robotic arms does the rest.

The lab has a staff of about 250 people and is open 24 hours a day. It is located more than a quarter of a mile from the hospital's emergency room but is connected to the ER by pneumatic tubes.

A few tests still cannot be automated, as a pathologist still needs to examine potential cancer cells using a microscope, for example. But the machines in the lab can flag suspicious results on computer monitors for technicians, and the hope is to expand that capability so that doctors can receive test results on their personal digital assistants.

``I'm just amazed at our turnaround time,'' said Toni Schroeder, a clinical lab scientist.

The lab was automated without spending any more money than the hospital already spent on supplies and labor.

Brent Barnes, the medical director of the adult emergency department at OU Medical Center, said the speedy results produced by the automated lab particularly helps people who doctors suspect might have had a heart attack.

Rather than stay overnight at the hospital, such a person need stay only a few hours.

``For a patient that has chest pain, it's immensely helpful,'' Barnes said.

Barnes said emergency room personnel now also have the ability to run bedside tests for enzymes that indicate whether or not a heart attack has occurred.

``One of the big barriers to the emergency department is to get large amounts of lab work done in a timely fashion,'' he said.