February 2014—A high-tech blend of hall monitor, bloodhound, and lost and found, tracking systems to manage tissue specimens, blocks, and slides have gradually been taking root as part of an automated workflow in some anatomic pathology laboratories. As manual labeling, logging, and data capture give way to bar coding and even radio frequency identification, it’s a revolution of sorts, but a quiet one.
“Tracking systems have been in the clinical laboratory for at least a decade and AP has been really slow to catch up, largely because the volume was never quite there and AP is very much a manual process,” says John H. Sinard, MD, PhD, professor of pathology and director of pathology informatics at Yale University School of Medicine. “There’s still an art to getting a good histologic section. It’s something that requires skill and training.” Now, however, the volume has increased along with the need for efficiency and patient safety, and tracking technology has matured.
Unlike robotics in the clinical laboratory, the modest automated processes available in the AP lab may not seem like game changers. Moreover, tracking systems aren’t cheap. The software alone for a tracking module from a laboratory information system vendor or a middleware solution from a third-party vendor can run from $50,000 to $100,000 or more. And even labs with the in-house informatics expertise to design and install their own tracking systems attest that the outlays are likely to be substantial.
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