Accelerate COVID-19 Testing with Lab Kanban

The global clinical laboratory testing market size was valued at $176.7 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.1%¹, reaching $346.8¹ billion by 2026². The growth is expected in large part due to increasing prevalence of chronic age-related diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, tuberculosis). The COVID-19 global pandemic has further fueled and accelerated the growth of the clinical laboratory testing market. However, clinical laboratories have had difficulty keeping up with the increased testing demands, as has recently been highlighted with the backlog of COVID-19 diagnostic testing and the rampant spread of the disease³. When it comes to public health in the face of a global pandemic, every day counts, and the industry is ripe for implementations of solutions that can save time and increase efficiency. Lean, originally a manufacturing philosophy, should be applied to clinical laboratories as a way to speed up testing turnaround time, increase testing capacity, providing faster patient diagnosis and improve the quality of patient care. Currently, the average testing turnaround times for some of the top diagnostic laboratories is 2-3 days4, by applying Lean principles through Lab Kanban’s Digital Lean Laboratory solution, we can speed up testing turnaround times by 50%, increase testing capacity and increase productivity of resources. Speedier diagnosis will reduce the spread of disease and help to save more lives. 

Lean is often synonymous with the eight wastes within a process (Muda). When speed is the priority, tackling wastes such as over-production and extra-processing, which can slow down a process, are key. Introducing automation in the testing process such as the introduction of electronic pipettes, plate washing machines, multi-drop dispensers and automated liquid handling machines help to streamline and speed up the testing process. It also leads to increased productivity of resources, reducing lab tech time, reducing manual processes which can often take multiple resources and ultimately increasing the capacity of lab resources to take on more testing. Where there is a low prevalence of cases, pooling samples including mixing several samples in a batch, which maximizes the number of people that can be tested together in the time of one run and deploying larger 384-well plates versus 96-well plates also increases efficiency, reducing consumable costs and reducing testing runs.

In lab environments, unevenness of the process, Mura, specifically inconsistency in the incoming demand of samples and also Muri (overburden) represent the biggest cost drivers for labs. Tackling these wastes through Heijunka, the Japanese term for leveling, by leveling out the sampling process, holding samples in a leveling queue, smooths out unevenness but also allows for batching of samples and increases productivity. In situations where speed is priority, coupled with incoming irregularity, this means there is less time to level load. Testing turnaround time should be examined, in situations with a short testing turnaround time (24-48 hours), leveling can be implemented but it is at the hourly level. The solution is to span 24 hours with multiple testing shifts in one day, queue the samples until you have reached enough for a full run or a testing cut off time. Then flow all samples through a streamlined accessioning, testing and reporting process. A better approach is to allow longer testing turnaround times of 2-3 days, adopt queue-based levelling to ensure optimum batching. We created Lab Kanban a cloud-based Lean laboratory scheduling software, to optimize lab resource scheduling. Our digital Lean solution, sets up virtual queues of samples that shunts samples straight to scheduling once there are enough samples to meet a full run, or alternatively once the testing cut off time has been reached. Within scheduling, our software converts the testing demand to hours’ worth of effort to visualize the amount of work assigned to each lab tech and scientist. 

Additionally, there is a further opportunity for Lean in the lab. In this situation, labs will often resource to meet the peaks in demand, which during low volume days will lead to low productivity. The solution for this is to combine another less urgent work streams to level out the days e.g. project work and cross-train all resources on testing and projects. During high volume days, the lab should put all hands-on-deck to complete the testing. During low volume days and to avoid an unproductive start to the day, resources should be assigned projects to ensure productivity. However, if samples arrive the lab techs go and initiate testing. In this way it is flexible hourly task leveling to ensure productive days and avoiding overburden of resources as each resource receives enough work to fill the day and ensure productivity of resources. In our digital Lean Laboratory platform, project tasks are sized up in hours’ worth of effort and assigned to level out lab tech days. Lab Kanban provides real- time visibility on the sample flow and who is assigned to what, the amount of work assigned and the progress of the work, ensuring productivity of resources. It also measures key performance indicators (KPIs) in real-time such as inefficient runs, loading of resources, number of testing runs/day and productivity measures such as tests/analysts. We also have a convenient instantaneous communication feature where lab techs in the lab can easily and quickly communicate with leadership regarding samples that need to be placed on hold or rejected providing quick feedback to providers to re-test patients. The benefits to our approach are speed of testing turnaround time and productivity of resources. By adopting our Lean lab approach, labs won’t need to hire more resources, instead our solution maximizes the efficiency of current resources. Labs can increase capacity and take on more samples with the same number of resources. Lab techs and scientists will also receive balanced days, with reduction in overburden and a mixture of work to avoid burn out from constant testing. 

At Lab Kanban, we have developed a solution to speed up COVID-19 testing and increase the productivity of resources. Clinical testing labs that implement our innovative digital Lean Laboratory solution will not only be able to increase productivity now but they will also be able to respond more efficiently and effectively to current and future global health emergencies, allowing for more testing and thereby saving more lives. Transform your laboratory operations today by contacting Lab Kanban (www.labkanban.com). 

Sources:

  1. Clinical Laboratory Tests Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report by Type (CBS, HGB/HCT, BMP, Bun Creatine, Electrolyte Testing, HBA1C, CMP, Liver Panel, Renal Panel, Lipid Panel), By End Use, And Segment Forecasts, 2020-2027. (2020) Grand View Research. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/clinical-laboratory-tests-market 2. Global Clinical Laboratory Market to Reach USD 346.81 Billion by 2026, Reports and Data (2019)
  2. Globe News Wire. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/05/07/1818678/0/en/Global- Clinical-Laboratory-Market-To-Reach-USD-346-81-Billion-By-2026-Reports-And-Data.html 3. COVID-19 Tests: There’s an Insurmountable Backlog of Virus Tests. A Rapid Test Could Help (2020). NBC News.
  3. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/covid-19-tests-there-s- insurmountable-backlog-virus-tests-rapid-n1234622
  4. http://www.questdiagnostics.com/home/Covid-19/HCP/TAT/ 
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