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Laboratory Software

Discover how laboratory software has made lab processes more efficient.

Laboratory software saves time and money and helps ensure patient safety. [©Jupiter Images, 2009
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Laboratory software saves time and money and helps ensure patient safety.

Laboratory software has largely replaced the shelves of color-coded files that previously held patient information. Modern laboratory software uses laboratory information systems (LIS) to make lab processes more efficient. Anatomic pathology suites, microbiology suites, blood-bank software, toxicology suites, hematology software, diagnostic genetics systems and radiology modules are some of the specialized laboratory software options that are currently offered. Keeping results on a Web-based system makes records and lab results available to any physician with access to the files and a secure Internet connection. Laboratory software addresses automation, Web-based records storage, standardization, compatibility and connectivity. This makes it easier to find information and decreases the incidence of lost or misfiled records, which saves time and money and helps ensure patient safety.

Specimen Management

Misidentified or misrouted biological specimens can lead to inaccurate test results, which can cause a patient's misdiagnosis, needlessly extend treatment or lead to inappropriate treatment. Laboratory software can help ensure specimens are routed quickly to the correct testing destinations.

Using a device very similar in function to a grocery store bar code scanner, health care workers can scan a code onto a patient's hospital wristband to ensure that medication is administered appropriately. The same device allows nurses to document the actions they take in the patient's care and medications, and also gives access to pharmacy information. If a blood sample is taken from the patient, the medical professional can print out a bar code to apply to the specimen. All of this takes place at the patient's bedside or at the point of care.

Automation

Automation not only makes client invoicing and direct payment to insurance companies possible, but it also enables laboratory software systems to interface with other information systems, instruments and devices. When lab testing is automated with laboratory software, it is easy to progress from testing and collecting a biological specimen to receiving the lab results and complete lab report.

A rule-based system allows users to set up specific software responses for a variety of results. The software recognizes the need for additional testing or analysis without having to wait for human intervention. This relegates routine work to computers and software. When systems are able to interface with other systems, skilled workers are freed to spend their time on more important issues, like interacting with patients.

Standardization and Compatibility

For laboratory software to interface smoothly the systems must be compatible. One such system for ensuring standardization and compatibility is Health Level Seven (HL7), a messaging standard that enables clinical applications to exchange data developed by the Health Level Seven Standards Development Organization. According to the organization, HL7 represents "an international community of health care subject matter experts and information scientists collaborating to create standards for the exchange, management and integration of electronic health care information."

According to Radiology Today, without a standard such as HL7, vendors and health care institutions would have to go through the expense and inconvenience of custom interface programming. HL7 began as an intra-hospital communications standard but has since become the model for data exchange within the health care industry. Ninety percent of health care facilities in the United States now use HL7.

Laboratory Software Issues

Once laboratory software systems are installed and debugged, they offer a great benefit to health care institutions and to the patients they serve. However, no solution, no matter how elegant or useful, is without its problems, and one of the problems with laboratory software is cost. Larger, more complex software and computer systems simply cost more. Another stumbling block is the learning curve. In addition to their present duties, lab workers must also take time to learn to operate new software. Training programs to teach workers the new software and systems are another added expense.

Future of the Technology

Along with a push toward standardization, laboratory software is expected to move in the direction of advanced graphics, user-friendly features and multithread programming. Use of the software will be made easier through the use of drag-and-drop functions and interactive icons. Another innovative system is the "lab-in-a-box," which is designed to test for diseases in third-world countries. The prototype can fit into a cigar box and is able to run 100 different tests from a single drop of fluid.

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