Dr. Pamela Kibsey and a lab technician examine a digital photo taken of a specimen by Royal Jubilee Hospital’s new fully automated microbiology laboratory. The new system will allow more tests of specimens to be done faster

RJH lab on the cutting edge

Hospital can now deliver faster and more accurate results

Royal Jubilee Hospital will be able to process patient samples faster and with more accuracy, thanks to a new state-of-the-art fully automated microbiology lab.

Royal Jubilee is the first hospital in North America to have such a system.

“It will make a huge difference for our patients, because we’ll have critical information to guide their therapy faster,” said Dr. Brendan Carr, CEO of Island Health.

The new lab system cost $4.3 million to install, and was done in partnership with the Capital Regional District. It officially goes live on Dec. 8.

Previously, hospital staff had to manually place specimens on petri dishes, spread them in a specific pattern then take them to the incubator. After 16 to 24 hours, technologists would then examine bacteria growth on the plates one by one.

With the new system, specimens are placed on plates automatically, then spread by specially designed magnetic beads. The plates are sent along a conveyer belt into the incubator, which takes digital images of the samples. The images can be viewed at any lab technologist’s computer.

Using this new process, 200 samples can be processed in an hour, as opposed to 40 to 60 per hour when done manually.

“It’s a continuous process that the robot does so the technologists don’t have to manually move plates around anymore,” said Dr. Pamela Kibsey, Island Health’s medical director of infection control and medical lead of the microbiology lab at Royal Jubilee.

The accuracy of the new robotic system is now 100 per cent for every specimen, said Carr.

“It raises our confidence and it raises our certainty in terms of diagnostics substantially.”

Despite the increased speed and efficiency, Carr and Kibsey assured no jobs would be lost as a result.

“One of the problems in North America is that we are facing staffing shortages,” said Kibsey. “We have to have a way of increasing our capacity, being faster, with the same amount of technologists. We have to do more with the same people.”

While this is the first automated microbiology lab of its kind at a hospital in North America, there are two private labs that have similar systems. One is at DynaLIFE lab in Edmonton and the other is at CML HealthCare lab in Mississauga.