Robot parade

 

Robot Rail

Robot Parade, from “They Might be Giants” (Youtube link, 1.5min song)
The robotic revolution is upon us.

At UCHealth, our multi-million dollar robot train allows us to run the top 50 types of test results as “stat.” This means when the blood arrives in the lab,  it takes about 10-15 minutes, tops to run the blood test and report it into the Electronic Health Record so that doctors and nurses can act on that information.

This robot combines with a fancy multi-channel pneumatic tube system that spans across multiple buildings, and transports blood samples drawn from patients in our Cancer Center, about a quarter mile away. Furthermore, our nurses print pre-barcoded labels specific to the patient and the request lab order, so there’s no mix up during transport.

The 3 technologies together make it so that from lab draw to test result is typically less than 30 minutes. Compare this to the “old way” of human transporters who walk around between buildings every few hours collecting specimens, and lab technicians who run tests in batches, by hand, with lots of err0r-prone human transcription. You’d be lucky to see an 8am blood test return a result by mid-afternoon.

This is amazing on many levels, and so few people know about it. I bring students, residents and colleague down for a show-and-tell tour any time that I can.

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Our lab technicians simply transfer the pre-barcoded tubes from the pneumatic transport canister to the robot intake rack. An articulated arm with camera spots the tube, grabs it, scans the barcode, puts the tube in a carrier slot on the railroad, and sends it down the track to the right machine in real time.

Once at the machine, the centrifuge has 6 slots. At busy times, all slots fill up quickly and the spin begins. If there’s a backlog, additional tubes are re-routed to an alternate machine to start a new load in-parallel. If there aren’t enough samples to run a full load after 5 minutes, water-filled tubes are selected automatically to fill empty slots and the centrifuge runs. Brilliant!

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Sometimes tubes are needed in separate machines with different processing needed. The robot is smart enough to split off and label “daughter tubes,” pipette out the right quantity, and send each one to the right destination.

At the end of the line, lab tubes are stored in the automated Stockyard for 3 days in case of needed “add-on labs.” The seamless interface between the EHR and the lab system allows ordering physicians to be reminded “Do you want to add your new order to the existing specimen?” If yes, the robot retrieves the blood, runs it back up the railroad, processes the new order, with no human intervention.

This ONE IDEA has saved 30,000 repeat lab draws on patients, in ONE MONTH, at our University hospital. Astounding. Faster for doctors receiving important results, cheaper for the lab, one less “stick” for patients.

A true win-win-win.

CMIO’s take?  So cool. I wish =I= could ride the railroad. Or maybe it is time to retire and take up model trains. Does your organization have one of these? Or maybe you were a model train enthusiast? Let me know.

 

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, University of Colorado Health; Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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