Background: Automation of tasks in the laboratory can improve efficiency and quality of service. In light of increased pressure on resources an automated Embedder (Autotec®) was purchased, with the aim of reducing staff required for embedding and improving Turn Around Times (TAT).
Design: Following a verification process, all resections, LLETZ specimens, curettings and skin excisions >2cm were processed using the Autotec® such that it was used for at least 50% of blocks daily. The number of scientific staff required for embedding each day was compared before introduction of the Autotec® and after achieving 50% throughput. Block numbers were also compared before and after its introduction. Pathologists were surveyed regarding the impact on workflow in the cut-up room and on the quality of sections.
Results: TAT improved by 4 days for cancer resections and endoscopic biopsies, and by 5 days for surgical specimens NOS. Time rostered for embedding was reduced from 5.5 hours to 3 hours/day. Block numbers did not increase significantly (<1%) following introduction of the Autotec®. Of nine pathologists who were surveyed, 4 believed that the Autotec® had increased the time spent in cut up, ranging from a slight increase up to 25%, 2 reported that the time spent had not increased and the remaining 3 did not specify. Five of 9 reported a minor negative impact on the quality of sections, without impact on histological evaluation e.g. edge artefact.
Conclusions: Introduction of the Autotec® lead to dramatic improvements in TAT, without increased scientific staff. Its use increased the amount of time spent by pathologists in the cut-up room, possibly negatively impacting the training of resident staff.
Keywords: Automation, quality assurance, histology, endoscopic biopsies