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Slide Labeling Automation Reduces a Laboratory’s Hands-On Time While Potentially Improving Patient Safety

Researchers estimate that more than 160,000 adverse patient events occur each year in the United States because of patient specimen identification errors involving clinical laboratories.1 Specimen labeling errors within the laboratory can occur at several points of specimen processing, and handwriting slides can lead to transcription errors.2 Using lean processes in the clinical laboratory can help reduce errors while removing non-value-added wastes, thus driving toward an improved, efficient system.3

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This assessment aimed to analyze the amount of hands-on time required to label slides for patient identification and compare that to two automated solutions. The first solution was a batch process using a high-capacity slide printer, and the second was an on-demand process using compact slide printers at each microtome station.

Methods

This study, conducted by the Leica Biosystems Content and Evidence Team, occurred at a dermatopathology laboratory. The laboratory was interested in finding automated solutions to their current labor-intensive slide labeling process. The team performed time and motion studies for the current process, which included handwriting slides at microtomy and relabeling slides at case assembly. The same time and motion study was completed for the proposed processes of batch slide printing and on-demand slide printing.

Results

The data from the time and motion studies are summarized in the following tables and chart:

Hands-On Time for Slide Labeling Processes

Discussion

Upon reviewing the data, technologists following the current process were spending an average of 9.5 seconds handwriting each slide during the slide labeling process at microtomy. As the laboratory generates an average of 546 slides each day, it amounts to 86.5 minutes per day. Over the entire year, this adds to 374.8 hours of required technologist hands-on time. Additionally, the technologist working at case assembly must also correctly match and relabel the slide with an LIS-generated label. This activity requires an average of 3.3 seconds relabeling each slide, or 30 minutes a day. Annually, this single process requires an additional 130 hours of technologist’s hands-on time.

The slide labeling process using a batch printing process takes 4.4 seconds of technologist time per slide or 40 minutes per day with an annual total of 173.3 hours. The slide labeling process using an on-demand slide printing process takes 2.5 seconds of technologist time per slide or 22.8 minutes per day for an annual total of 98.8 hours. Both automated solutions would eliminate the matching and relabeling of each slide at case assembly.

Transitioning to a batch printing process would allow the lab to save up to 8.4 seconds per slide or a 65.7% improvement over their current slide labeling process. However, implementing the on-demand slide printing process could save this laboratory up to 10.3 seconds per slide or an 80.4% improvement over their current slide labeling process.

Conclusion

Laboratories can reduce hands-on time and eliminate possible matching errors through automating manual slide labeling processes.

Projections and Realized Results are specific to the institution where they were obtained and may not reflect the results achievable at other institutions.

References

  1. Ford, A. (2005). Catching ID errors where it counts— in the lab. CAP Today, 19(19), 34-40.
  2. Layfield, L. J., & Anderson, G. M. (2010). Specimen labeling errors in surgical pathology: an 18-month experience. American journal of clinical pathology, 134(3), 466-470.
  3. Condel, J. L., Sharbaugh, D. T., & Raab, S. S. (2004). Error-free pathology: applying lean production methods to anatomic pathology. Clinics in laboratory medicine, 24(4), 865-899

Projections and Realized Results are specific to the institution where they were obtained and may not reflect the results achievable at other institutions.

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