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Enabling Technological Transformation for Healthcare Services Through Lab Automation

In-class automation of lab services to power the medical community

Quest Diagnostics

Diagnostics is a crucial aspect of medical services. Diagnostic tests and therapeutic procedures provide the relevant insights required for the detection, identification, and treatment of medical conditions while also inspiring healthy behavior and improving health care management. 

Quest Diagnostics Incorporated (NYSE: DGX) is the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services. Motivated by a goal to empower the public to take action to improve health outcomes, Quest hosts the world’s largest database of clinical lab results. Annually serving one in three adult Americans and half the physicians and hospitals in the United States, Quest’s focus is to inspire actions that transform lives through the diagnostic insights made available through its clinical lab results.

THE CLIFTON LAB – A NEXTGENERATION LAB FACILITY

To facilitate these goals, Quest completed its integration of Northeast region operations to its new 250,000 sq. ft. next-generation lab facility in Clifton, New Jersey in 2021. Serving more than 40 million people per year in seven states across the Northeast, the Clifton lab performs high-volume diagnostic testing services offering increased productivity, superior medical quality, and capacity to meet current and future regional demands. 

Among one of the largest medical laboratory facilities in the world, Clifton is state-of-the-art, featuring extensive automation that enables it to perform more than 300,000 tests per day with exceptional accuracy, quality, and efficiency. Two distinct automated lines for clinical testing and a bridge design help enhance process efficiency. The automated facility also utilizes barcode tracing solutions to track and store specimens thus making it easier for healthcare providers to request follow-up tests or detailed analysis in real-time while allowing the lab to deliver superior provider and patient experiences. 

Beyond its advanced facilities and services, the Clifton lab represents a more than $250 million commitment to its customers and community, providing more than 1,000 jobs and serving as an economic stimulus for New Jersey. The automated environment at the facility offers employees skill-building opportunities and the ability to focus on high-value work surrounding medical diagnostic insights. 

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quest

AUTOMATION AS A MEANS TO AN END

In-class automation at the Clifton lab has enabled the facility to become a platform for technological transformation driven by powerful tools toward enhanced operational solutions including network integration of patient data for seamless data access, multiple redundancies to improve efficiency and ensure reliability, automation technology to minimize the chance of specimen loss, and Quantum lab services for easier, faster test-ordering. As such, there is an equal influence in workspace culture, and the demands to meet client-customer standards and lab workflows.

Built with purpose and efficiency in mind, automation at the Clifton lab supports employees and elevates daily efforts toward patient care. The significant investment in automation has demanded shifts toward a digital transformation mindset from all of Clifton’s employees. A representative example considers the physical routines surrounding the handling of microbiology plates. Quest understands that behind every test tube there is a person, and at Clifton, automation strips out those repetitive physical tasks allowing its teams to focus on what truly matters: finding actionable insights for patients faster. Rather than become bogged down by repetitive physical tasks, automation allows employees to focus on patient care and the procurement of accurate diagnostic results. 

Automation cannot replace the personal expertise of individual workers. Rather, Clifton lab’s goals coincide with an integrated approach where automation can enhance the individual expertise of workers, focusing on evaluating lab results, instead of repetitive tasks, ultimately reducing the footprint of human error, improving efficiency and through - put, and resulting in more accurate and faster patient care.

TRANSFORMING MICROBIOLOGY DIAGNOSTICS

Despite its myriad advantages, automation is not the answer for every lab. Fortunately, the high-volume testing and throughput standards at Clifton necessitate the use of automation as a valuable operational tool. 

A representative example concerns the microbiology department. Quest Diagnostics offers a complete spectrum of diagnostic microbiology services. Crucial to microbiological diagnostics is the handling of tightly sealed sterile containers, tubes, or plates that transport relevant media. Maintaining viability, and the prevention of overgrowth of nonpathogenic microorganisms, drying of the specimen, and any sample leakage is highly critical to obtaining accurate diagnostic results. 

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quest

By increasing automation in the microbiology department, the Clifton lab has reduced the length of incubation for several culture types by anywhere between 25% to 60%, depending on the test. As a result, significantly less time is spent on negative cultures, allowing Clifton’s techs to focus on making accurate, efficient readings of positive results, and subsequently improving overall turnaround time. Much of this has been achieved in what is essentially a closed system with minimal human intervention. Automation of technology allows for faster workflows with reduced footprints of human error while the incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) further helps in segregating specimens and identifying relevant factors in bacterial culture growth. 

Investing in automation has allowed Clifton lab’s microbiology department to become more data-driven Supplemented by detailed daily and weekly reports, the department has found great success in tackling manageable issues before they compound into larger problems, further strengthening lab workflows and processes. 

MOVING FORWARD

In a consumer-centric approach, Quest Diagnostics has looked at automation to embrace technology as well as improve the work environment of employees and customer expectations alike. The Clifton lab has become the proving grounds for such an objective and is a facility that, in many ways, brings several labs into one single location that combines large-scale diagnostic services with the relevant redundancy required. The subsequent technological transformation influences the science involved as well as the workplace with a goal to enhance, rather than replace, the critical work of its employees. Two automated core tracks, focusing on clinical testing and bridge design, are crucial to the lab’s success in its transformation to a digital platform. 

Core lab testing, for a large part, involves responding to the client’s needs. Three factors for decision making are identified: (i) authenticity and integrity of results, (ii) consistency toward expectations and turnaround time, which is a big function of client experience calibrated by market performance, and (iii) the service and responsiveness as an entity to customer needs. Quest Diagnostics meets all these conditions through the Clifton lab, where automation drives the turnaround time and responsiveness of various diagnostic tests and processes. 

In a holistic approach to lab management, Quest Diagnostics and its flagship facility in Clifton demonstrate how automated technology can be used to boost diagnostic services as well as user experience for customers, patients, and employees. Quest Diagnostics proves the potential of technological transformation for healthcare services through lab automation and its effectiveness to power the medical community.

To learn more, visit: www.questdiagnostics.com

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