Releasing pressure on pathology services: RFID technology holds the key

With the NHS continuing to struggle as it responds to the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the effects that COVID-19 disease is having on an already heavy workload, Gillian Ewers examines the advantages that radio frequency identification offers in combination with a novel sample transport and tracking system.

Over the past few months, SARS-CoV-2 testing has ramped up to around 250,000 per day in the UK (Pillars1&2 swabs only1

Add on the antibody testing and this represents around a 10% increase in the number of tests the UK laboratories have to handle. This rise and the need to provide the results in record time have brought historic inefficiencies back into the spotlight.


In the June issue of Pathology in PragmatIC outlined how

innovations in radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and flexible electronics could be used to improve efficiency. In this follow-up article, the company aims to offer some hope for the future, with more specific details of an exciting trial in the north-east of England of a new sample transport and tracking system using RFID that has the potential to revolutionise pathology services and save the NHS millions of pounds.

Challenges In recent years, there have been considerable changes in the pathology sector, including the consolidation in several regions of multiple in-house hospital facilities into larger ‘super’ laboratories that are designed to be centres of excellence. While this has

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provided some benefits, there are still inefficiencies that prevent laboratories maximising the use of expensive analytical equipment.

Sarah Jane Marsh (Director of Testing for NHS Test and Trace) has claimed it is laboratory processing that has been “the critical pinch point” during the SARS-CoV- 2 testing debate. According to some

media reports, staffing shortages in laboratories could be a factor. It does not take long to identify areas

where improvements could be made. For example, traditionally the incoming samples are unpacked and sorted manually, plus they come with a lot of paperwork to be processed. It is very time-consuming, requires significant numbers of staff and is prone to errors. Additionally, samples can be lost or damaged in transit, and paperwork can be misplaced or mismatched. All of which must be recorded and reported, and tests re-ordered.

It would also be an advantage if the pathology laboratory knew in advance exactly when and which samples were due to arrive so staff could define an optimum schedule of work. Without this knowledge, staff can only react once the samples are unpacked. This pattern is

SamplePod is a reusable transport pod in which up to 52 samples can be carried, designed to accommodate a wide variety of different sizes of test tubes.


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