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To better serve Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) beneficiaries, staff members of the Department of Pathology have started using a fully automated chemistry system in its lab.

Army Capt. Karen Thomas, who was instrumental in acquiring the new multi-million dollar system and bringing it online at WRNMMC, explained it will further ensure an efficient workflow and reduce turnaround times for STAT (Short turn-around time) and routine work requiring a high rate of production.

"The College of American Pathologists (CAP), considered the leader in laboratory quality assurance by lab professionals, recently inspected the WRNMMC lab, including the automated Chemistry Section. Even though this new major system was implemented only shortly before the inspection, the inspectors nonetheless confirmed that Capt. Thomas and her staff had validated all elements of system performance and completed numerous quality assurance checks to ensure safe and effective function,” according to Navy Capt. Larry R. Ciolorito, assistant chief of the Department of Pathology.

He added the lab performs approximately 3.5 million tests annually, and transfuses approximately 9,000 units of blood products each year. “Of the 3.5 million annual tests, over half will be performed on the new analyzer."

Thomas explained the new automated system should result in more reliability in lab results because its pre- and post-analytics eliminate the need for manual manipulation of samples prior to analyzing and automated storage of samples occurs once they are loaded on the system. “Automated de-capping and re-capping also make the instrument safer for staff to use.”

She added the new system integrates pre-analytical elements such as centrifugation and aliquoting, a very large inventory of automated testing, and post-analytical data analysis and reporting.

Thomas explained the prior chemistry system had reached its life expectancy, necessitating routine service calls and causing downtime and delays. The multi-year, multi-million acquisition placed similar systems and capabilities at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital (FBCH) are in line with the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region Medical's guidance for standardization of services throughout the joint operating area.

“Having the same platforms at FBCH and WRNMMC has enabled the National Capital Area (NCA) to provide consistent results between the two hospitals - methods for analytes, reference ranges, standard operating procedures, and lab test files are the same,” Thomas said. “Therefore, if a patient is drawn at one hospital on one day and another hospital another day, the results will be comparable.”

Training for employees who currently use the new system was initially conducted on site and is on-going, Thomas continued, adding approximately 25 staff members currently use the system on a 24/7 basis.

She said the initiative is part of an effort by the Department of Pathology to move the lab to total automation.

“This was an enormous undertaking for our staff at a time when we were still absorbing and managing the effects of integration,” Ciolorito added. “This was a multi-year process that included requirements development, significant facilities modifications, extensive staff training, and numerous adjustments to staffing and shift assignments. It would not have been possible without a truly joint and unified approach on the part of our staff, whose goal is the delivery of world-class patient-centered care,” he concluded.