COLUMBIA — Boone Hospital Center unveiled a new $5.5 million laboratory in the basement of the new patient tower where lab workers expect to be able to conduct nearly a million tests each year.
Hospital staff said the new lab has the capacity to process 1,200 to 1,500 specimens per day with an automated pre-analytics machine that performs many tasks that were once done manually.
"If (the machine) needs to put (a specimen) on a certain analyzer, it puts it on there," Director of Laboratory Management Brenda Dolan said. "If it needs to send it to a holding area so that we can pick it up and send it to a lab, it does that."
The switch from a manual to an automated process is the main improvement with the new lab, which is open 24/7. Dolan said the changes won't result in layoffs of lab staff, but the hospital isn't hiring new staff.
The hospital had been operating out of both the old lab upstairs and the new one downstairs since July, one month after the opening of the new patient tower.
Combining the labs was "a monumental task," Boone Hospital Center President Dan Rothery said.
The lab is capable of performing blood, urine and tissue tests. The three most common tests performed are complete blood test counts, and comprehensive and basic metabolic panels, Dolan said.
Complete blood counts examine a patient's blood and can determine infections, diseases and disorders such as anemia. Comprehensive and basic metabolic panels are broad tests that measure levels of substances such as electrolytes, sodium, potassium and glucose.
Dolan said another test that the lab can now perform is a vitamin D test. If people have low amounts of vitamin D — which media relations specialist Jacob Luecke said is becoming more common — it can affect their bones as well as their probability of getting cancer and other diseases, Dolan said.
Rothery said 75 percent of all the diagnoses that come out of the hospital have something to do with results from the lab.
"The lab plays just a critical role in everything that goes on here," he said.
With the installment of the automated equipment, time spent processing tests will decrease, which will get results to patients faster, Dolan said. Complete blood counts take five to 10 minutes, though other tests take longer.
Another improvement is the amount of space for the workers. Before, it was a cramped area where lab workers couldn't complete all the tasks they wanted, laboratory operations specialist Becky Hennessy said.
"In the past, it was always limited by 'Oh, is there enough space for that?' Well now we're not limited by that," she said.
Employees helped design the lab for 2 1/2 years, Dolan said. Any worker who had an opinion could offer their ideas.
With the new lab, many efficiencies will be seen as time passes, Dolan said.
"When you improve the laboratory, you're actually improving the care that we deliver," Rothery said.