As the healthcare field continues to grow, it is coming under more and more pressure to save money while raising standards of care, often with fewer resources. Pathology is certainly no exception. The field continues to grow at a rapid pace, as more testing, and more complex testing, is done.
In addition to economic pressures, the field faces the challenge of preparing new laboratory staff to handle increased testing. According to U.S. News & World Report’s February “The best jobs of 2012” report on the 25 careers with the best prospects over the coming decade, jobs in clinical laboratories are ranked as number 13,1 which is not surprising considering that technician and technologist jobs have been among the fastest-growing job categories in the country for a number of years. Laboratory jobs are expected to rise nearly 15% between 2010 and 2020. With that growth, however, comes the need for adequate and consistent professional training and preparation.
In addition to issues of economy and education, the field is facing a third challenge—that of providing instruments that are future-focused. Professionals increasingly are seeking systems that automatically link to other instruments, help create streamlined lab workflow paradigms, and produce a minimum of waste. Today’s laboratories demand ultra-dependable instruments that will perform consistently and adapt easily to the needs of a wide variety of users as technology and medical demands evolve.
The right instruments can make a difference in the laboratory, offer flexibility, and respond to changing needs. Microscopes are among the most important optical instruments in the laboratory, sometimes requiring extensive training and demanding a great deal of their users, both physically and mentally. Today’s microscopes not only provide the best optical performance ever; they also can help laboratories meet their goals for efficiency, ergonomy, and future adaptability as well.
Among the most important priorities of today’s microscopy laboratories is making microscope usage more efficient. Light emitting diode (LED) illumination is one area where cost and energy savings are easily found. Just as televisions, airplane lights and traffic signals use LED light sources for greater efficiency and enhanced color fidelity, microscope makers now are doing the same, and new choices in illumination make it possible to have excellent color fidelity at lower cost. While traditional halogen bulbs are still available, many laboratories are choosing to switch to microscopes with ultra-efficient LEDs.
LED illumination systems have far-reaching environmental benefits too. They could help eliminate the disposal of 90 percent or more of the bulbs now being tossed away. Until recently, LED microscope illuminators could not deliver all colors equally well, but new technologies now provide superior color fidelity that rivals halogen bulbs. Though these systems sometimes cost more up front, they use much less energy, and each illuminator lasts years longer than traditional bulbs. This makes the light source switch a logical and cost-effective choice.
Other microscope efficiency improvements include new software designed for streamlined communications, along with enhanced training and clinical research functionality. For instance, software currently under development may make sharing training images simple. Up to 50 remote computers can simultaneously log on and view a live or captured image using a standard web browser. The primary user will adjust the microscope and camera parameters either by hand or automatically. He or she also will annotate files, send images, and control access for remote users. Remote users will view live and captured images at various resolutions even though they do not control the camera or the microscope. Clinical researchers also will be able to share images with colleagues in remote locations.
Another software program, also in development, is specifically focused on clinical research. It promises a comprehensive, fully customizable solution that will allow clinical researchers to move smoothly and quickly from initial image capture through processing, analysis and reporting in just a few simple steps. Even such advanced functions as deconvolution, cell counting, large area stitching, fluorescence unmixing, and data sharing will be fast and intuitive.
Ergonomics continues to be a hot button for laboratory professionals interested in getting maximum efficiency and accuracy from clinical laboratory operations. The more that clinical laboratory users feel that their microscope is custom-designed for them, the less likely they are to feel de-energized while spending protracted periods of time at their instrument.
Today’s microscopes go a long way toward giving users a custom-designed feel. Microscopes that have been designed for clinical and research users come with a wide variety of custom-comfort features that make them easily adaptable to the widest variety of users. They can even accommodate either right- or left-handedness. The heads of some new microscopes tilt (to adjust the angle of the eyepieces) and telescope (to move the eyepieces forward or back). They also lift and lower to adjust to users of almost any height, so that proper posture can be maintained at the microscope and stress can be reduced. Most modern microscope eyepieces also adjust to users’ prescriptions and inter-pupillary distances.
Another unique feature of some of today’s microscopes is an ultra-low stage. Some stages are barely five inches off the work surface—about three inches lower than standard microscopes. This means that only minimal forearm movement is necessary to change or mark specimens. Some microscopes have all their adjustable knobs and controls up front, toward the user. This enables easy access, while also providing maximum instrument stability. Many laboratories find that motorizing selected microscope functions also helps eliminate repetitive motion. Motorized nosepieces and shutter releases, for instance, enable users to change objectives or snap images with just one touch of an easy-access button.
The latest microscope technologies offer many benefits to meet the increasingly rigorous demands of our healthcare system and society, and they deliver better ergonomics and greater efficiency than ever. Microscopes that are easier to use, easier to train on, more flexible, and more ergonomic could ultimately lead to a lower per-usage cost, with even wider use of the instruments for clinical applications, research, and education. In addition, many instruments now come with software to help multiple operators share the same system. The software both adds convenience and helps promote consistent workflow throughout the organization. It enables the review of samples sorted by various criteria, helps in training, and streamlines the reporting process. Microscopes that are ready for future demands while delivering a personalized feel and excellent optical performance can help today’s laboratories prepare for tomorrow’s requirements.
- U.S. News & World Report. “The best 25 jobs of 2012 rankings. February 27, 2012.
http://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2012/02/27/the-best-25-jobs-of-2012-rankings. Accessed April 2, 2012.
Mark Clymer, MBA, is the Product Manager for Core Microscopes at Pennsylvania-based Olympus America Inc.
He is responsible for managing the upright and inverted microscope product lines for both the clinical and research markets.
Prior to joining Olympus, Mr. Clymer held various positions in pharmaceutical marketing, strategic planning, and drug discovery.