inefficient in terms of resources and, given that many of the analysers are batch loaded, further slows the process. What is needed is a new system that can process incoming samples quickly without compromising on accuracy or safety.


Quality Hospital Solutions (QHS), which specialises in providing innovative products to the NHS and the wider care industry, has developed a solution known as SamplePod. This novel sample transport and tracking system is a collaboration between the NHS, leading pathology experts and technology innovators aimed at improving efficiency, increasing capacity, and reducing costs for pathology services. It consists of 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. A low-cost RFID label encoded with a unique ID is attached to each sample, providing item-level digital traceability in real-time from the patient all the way through to the pathology laboratory. As each sample has a unique ID, no sensitive patient information is stored anywhere in this system. At the point when the sample is taken, each sample tube is associated with a master RFID tag within the SamplePod itself. The clinician generating the samples can then send a notification to the laboratory of the expected arrival time of the SamplePod, and what is required for the associated samples. In this way the appropriate laboratory staff and equipment can be made ready. In the laboratory, the SamplePod is quickly scanned with a reader and the samples verified, identifying any time- critical ones. These samples can swiftly be moved on to testing, and all others can be handled in a much more efficient manner. This reduces the time that was previously spent unpacking lots of plastic bags, and there are cost savings not only from the reduction of use of the bags, but also of costs associated with disposing of packaging deemed clinical waste. The following points summarise the

areas where efficiencies and cost savings can be achieved using this new system: n prompt sample handling process n fewer laboratory staff required n reduction in re-tests caused by lost or damaged samples

n improved utilisation of laboratory equipment

n reduction in paper documentation and plastic bags

n reduction in waste disposal.

There are of course infrastructure costs of installing a new system, including hardware

Ultralow-cost and flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs) significantly reduce the cost of RFID labels.

and software for the readers, plus the SamplePods and RFID tags (inlays). The readers and pods are re-useable, so their costs are amortised over many uses. The inlays for the samples make up the largest volume and are single-use. Conventional RFID tags use silicon chips, or integrated circuits (ICs), and their relatively high cost makes them economically unviable in this scenario. QHS has partnered with PragmatIC, whose unique technology platform delivers ultralow-cost, thin and robust flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs) that provide the perfect solution. Inlays based on PragmatIC’s RFID FlexICs can be easily applied to the small- circumference test tubes and bottles to provide the unique identification required.

What next?

The initial trials of SamplePod in the north-east of England have progressed well. Assuming the next steps go well in the region, the vision is to roll this system out across the whole of the UK pathology network, with a projection that it could save the NHS an estimated £250 million a year.

It is envisaged that in the future, additional functionality could be added to the process, such as robotics designed to unpack and sort the samples. The SamplePod system could also be used with temperature monitoring tags to ensure the samples are kept in a consistent environment.


So, although we do not know what will happen over the next few months, and how the pandemic will develop, it is clear that investment in technology and innovation is key to enabling our pathology services to increase the number of tests that can be handled. Until a vaccine is proven to be effective and has been administered to a large proportion of the world’s population, widespread testing is the only way we can continue to go to work, college and school, and try to get on with our lives as best we can.

References 1 Public Health England and NHSX.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK. London: PHE, 2020 (

2 Ewers G. How can RFID technology and flexible electronics help pathology services? Pathology in Practice 2020 June; 21 (3): 32–3.

Gillian Ewers is Vice-President, Marketing at PragmatIC.

Further information is available from the company. PragmatIC

400 Cambridge Science Park Milton Road

Cambridge CB4 0WH, UK Tel: +44 (0)1223 855010 Web:





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