The “hospital central laboratory”: automation, integration and clinical usefulness

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Recent technological developments in laboratory medicine have led to a major challenge, maintaining a close connection between the search of efficiency through automation and consolidation and the assurance of effectiveness. The adoption of systems that automate most of the manual tasks characterizing routine activities has significantly improved the quality of laboratory performance; total laboratory automation being the paradigm of the idea that “human-less” robotic laboratories may allow for better operation and insuring less human errors. Furthermore, even if ongoing technological developments have considerably improved the productivity of clinical laboratories as well as reducing the turnaround time of the entire process, the value of qualified personnel remains a significant issue. Recent evidence confirms that automation allows clinical laboratories to improve analytical performances only if trained staff operate in accordance with well-defined standard operative procedures, thus assuring continuous monitoring of the analytical quality. In addition, laboratory automation may improve the appropriateness of test requests through the use of algorithms and reflex testing. This should allow the adoption of clinical and biochemical guidelines. In conclusion, in laboratory medicine, technology represents a tool for improving clinical effectiveness and patient outcomes, but it has to be managed by qualified laboratory professionals.

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