Diagnostic laboratories for clinical and anatomical pathology are process-driven and supported by advanced equipment for accuracy and speed. Chain of custody and workflow efficiency are also drivers in these facilities' design. Our experts on pathology lab solutions offer these things to consider when developing a plan for renovating or building a diagnostic lab.
Before proceeding with design work, it is essential to understand the anticipated workflow of a lab. For example, there will be various paths for sample testing and analysis and more specific measures for stat samples that support surgery. In addition, locations of intake and outtake points should be considered within the overall building context. For example, samples need to be coded from initial intake, and the code should be read for tracking information at every station. The intake process prepares samples for their travels through a lab.
A flow diagram represents a workflow process during the initial planning stages, which can later be translated into a bubble diagram of the steps a sample takes when journeying through the facility. A lab strategy should be efficient with minimal distance between stations and minimal sample transfers. Some samples may need to be kept at the end of the process, so plenty of storage should be provided for this. Upon completion, samples are disposed of and stored in the appropriate areas of your laboratory.
Because the process relies on equipment placement, analyzing normal sample volume projections is essential to anticipate the amount of equipment you need. Because it is vital to get as much production from your equipment as possible, it is critical to determine hours of operation with the management of the lab. This will also delineate the number of staff and shifts required for facility operation. Finally, provisions need to be made for equipment downtime with backup plans and redundancy kept in mind. Typical samples will have routine routes through the lab process, while others like surgery tissue are not a part of the regular established routine. These samples are handled separately with more involvement individually instead of automation.
These are the lab workhorses. They must be appropriately placed to material flow within the laboratory with adequate operation clearances and maintenance. It is also vital to manage utilities well for service and location. Many equipment operations are repetitive, so workstations and proper ergonomics should be provided with respite opportunities during a work shift.
These may include microscopy, frozen sections, stat labs, and others that do not fall into a category of standard throughput but instead require unique operations which will or won't lend themselves to automation. Pathology laboratories will also provide space for multi-headed microscopes for pathology teams to review samples for diagnosis. General reading stations will also depend upon the lab, although these stations can be remote with data transfer. Other laboratory support stations include electrical rooms, mechanical rooms, material storage, sample storage, gas cylinder rooms, and hazardous waste holding, to name a few.
It is evident that since labs are so throughput and process-driven, lean approaches may be in order. Minimizing actions and steps will make for a more efficient workflow, reduce errors, and increase safety. A lean analysis should be performed during the flow and bubble diagram stages. Relationships between waste holding, storage, workstations, and intake should be thoroughly evaluated and designed for throughput optimization.
Change is the one thing that is always certain. Equipment can become more efficient, and new equipment may bring automation to previously manual tasks. Therefore, potentially unpredictable emerging technologies should be provided for in lab design. Appropriate maintenance points and service alleys are easy ways to allow for changes in a non-disruptive manner. In addition, adequate services like vacuum, air, and power need to be provided or have the ability for expansion. Potential future automation and technology analysis should occur during the initial design stages to locate places for emerging equipment.