In today’s article, we will talk about how future automation must take account of diagnostic molecular techniques and how these must coexist with traditional workflows.

As we mentioned in one of our recent articles, the automation of clinical microbiology laboratories began approximately two decades ago. The advantages that automation systems such as Autoplak, Microscan and Phoenix offer laboratories are well known. They produce higher quality results more quickly and they allow lab professionals to devote time to tasks of greater added value.

Adopting automation has led to both qualitative and quantitative improvements in clinical microbiology labs.

Even so, there is still considerable room for progress. Sooner or later, the integration of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and systems to speed up culture diagnosis will represent further substantial advancements.

On the other hand, new molecular techniques are already up and running. They have also been adopted gradually by laboratories, complementing the workflows of so-called traditional microbiology.

How will molecular and traditional techniques coexist in the next few years?

Molecular or rapid techniques bring sensitivity and, in general, speed. Occasionally, sensitivity may be detrimental to specificity, and culture testing will be necessary in order to evaluate the viability of the microorganism and quantify it in the context of other possible microorganisms present in the sample. Moreover, cultures are still needed to evaluate sensitivity to a wide range of antimicrobials and other epidemiological applications.

Therefore, we consider that inevitably these techniques will have to coexist and, on many occasions, work in parallel.

What protocols will be in place with each technique?

In serious acute infections, rapid or molecular techniques will probably be favoured for an initial analysis, as we are seeing at present, since they will make it possible to obtain a swift etiological diagnosis and guide antimicrobial treatment. At all events, cultures will continue to be performed in parallel for the reasons outlined earlier.

How will the coexistence of these techniques affect laboratory workflows?

Possible modifications to the current traditional culture-based circuits are anticipated, due both to the adoption of new molecular techniques and the integration of new non-molecular techniques such as artificial intelligence (image capture, diagnostic support algorithms…).

How should these new trends integrate the new automatic systems?

The primary task of the suppliers of automatic systems is to conceptualise instruments that speed up and improve patient diagnosis.

Under this premise, ideally the new systems should be:

  • Modular (capable of growing or being scaled down depending on the laboratory).
  • Flexible (able to integrate new techniques and/or technologies as seamlessly as possible).
  • Innovative (integrating the new technologies).

As we have said, microbiology laboratories have evolved considerably over the last few years; they now face a number of challenges to consolidate their development, leading to a laboratory of the future that will be much more technological and disruptive, geared to offering the best patient diagnosis

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