Mobile solutions in today’s Hematology lab

May 24, 2015

Envision your day in the Hematology lab—serene, smooth, stress-free. All is calm.

Now open your eyes to a slightly different reality: Staff scurrying from bench to analyzer, QC charts piling up, someone rapidly thumbing through a set of 4″ thick procedure manuals, red and yellow buzzers lighting up. Oh, and you're one person down today. The desire for a hassle-free, hustle-free, Hematology department is natural; how to get from here to there is a problem. But there is a solution: mobile Hematology lab management. Let's see how new technology is advancing the Hematology lab.

The promise of mobility

Hematology departments have come a long way. Since the advent of hematology analyzers in the 1950s, the relevant technology and science have rapidly advanced. High-end automation, integration, and computerization are the norm. But the jump to the 21st century has been delayed until now. The ability to truly walk away, even drive away, and manage Hematology from your home is now a reality. The promise of mobility finally unshackling staff from the work bench brings with it the potential for new levels of productivity, performance, and peace of mind in the Hematology lab.

Harness the power of the tablet

While tablets have been available for more than fifteen years, and made a huge jump popularity in 2010 with the launch of the iPad, their power has not been harnessed in the lab until now. There are several tablet-based software systems available for smaller sections of the lab, but not for Hematology. Due to the volume of testing going through Hematology on a daily basis, it is paramount to design a robust system that handles many of the day-to-day management issues that affect overall productivity.

Foremost among these issues are monitoring QC, tracking analyzer status, troubleshooting, accessing service logs, training new personnel, and answering night-shift calls amid a long list of distractions. With labs becoming chronically short-staffed, these items eat into the actual productive portion of the day, both for the manager and the operators. While the results still get produced, checked, and posted, the portion of an individual's labor time spent doing all the ancillary tasks grows larger in relation to the number of staff available. It gets harder to “share the pain,” as it were. This directly contributes to stress, job dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and, ultimately, burnout.

It's not a pleasant thing to admit, but in many cases, the only thing that may keep employees on the treadmill is the perception that the situation is the same everywhere—a very negative kind of reinforcement. So, if a lab can differentiate itself by adopting mobile solutions to untether employees from the daily grind and provide more information at their fingertips, it will set itself apart as a place people want to work.

What software can do

So what, specifically, can software do for a lab manager? The answer lies in three dimensions:

  1. Connectivity. Just as a personal tablet enables an individual to stay in touch with his or her personal network from virtually anywhere, the tablet software in the Hematology space does the same for the lab manager. It links him or her in real time to the analyzer.
  2. Accessibility. Tablets enable managers to view important information which is instantly accessible when and where they need it.
  3. Mobility. For a manager, the ability to take the information and network along inherently reduces the stress of not being in control. Ignorance is not bliss in Hematology; but getting a phone call at 3 AM is no fun either. The tablet's mobility enables a manager to quickly understand a situation remotely. Perhaps even more importantly, it gives the onsite staff immediate access to critical information so that they can resolve issues without consulting the manager.

In essence, a manager can be in two places at one time. And a mobile lab assistant is often a bridge between generations within the lab as well. With Gen X and Millennials entering the workforce, this sort of technology is expected; immediate gratification is the norm when it comes to accessing information. A tablet-based system meets that expectation, making life easier for all staff.

Broader benefits

More broadly, a mobile lab assistant translates to several benefits for the lab:

  1. Increased productivity. When mundane paperwork and fruitless searching for information are eliminated, productivity goes up. This is key when staffing levels are going down; there are more samples to process and less staff to do the work. In addition, the traditional 10 to 15 minutes of turnover required at the start of a shift are reduced to a quick glance at the dashboard. Red/yellow/green indicators quickly let the next shift know what is in process and what needs to be addressed without requiring a trip to the bench.
  2. Knowledgeable staff. As labs continue to move to a generalist model, particularly on the night shift, it is imperative that laboratorians be familiar with the systems they are operating. Ensuring all staff is up-to-date on education and training is a daunting and never-ending task. Having all the procedure manuals, service manuals, and product training videos at their fingertips takes that burden off supervisors and puts it literally in the hands of the staff. From figuring out how to change reagents to how to troubleshoot an error code, the tablet ensures the staff have access to the information they need without having to paw through binders.
  3. Peace of mind. The ability to see the status at a glance from any location helps take the frustration out of managing Hematology. Being on call is part of the job. Having real-time information as the first line of defense, however, reduces uncertainty. If a problem occurs, the supervisor on call can quickly ascertain the situation. Better yet, the laboratorian on site can pull up the remote diagnostics information and initiate troubleshooting preemptively.
  4. Confidence in quality results. Certainly one key to peace of mind is knowing that the answers the department is providing are of high quality. Having IQAP reports readily accessible ensures that will happen.
  5. Everything in one place. As lab space gets increasingly crowded, the days of libraries of binders and reams of paper are rapidly coming to an end. It is critical to be able to access this information without physically having to dig through it. And having sticky notes plastered all over is a sure way to lose control of key data. In the paper-based model, often it is easiest just to call someone to get needed help. With a tablet, that is not necessary.

It's not really magic

While it may appear to be “magic” from the outside looking in, the technology is actually quite easy to adopt. The lab installs software on the analyzer that gives it remote capability (network Wi-Fi in the lab is required). The tablet sits on a base and enclosure; it recharges automatically on the base.

Once it is installed, the tablet can be taken anywhere—to another part of the lab, to the lab manager's office, to home—and the manager will have real-time access to the analyzer's status, QC, and troubleshooting information. The tablet software is available on a subscription basis. A manager can even try it before buying it.

Manager-friendly Hematology

There is a road to the future of Hematology that we can access today which will reduce stress and frustration. A tablet-based lab assistant now offers connectivity, accessibility and mobility to Hematology labs.