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TriCore’s robotic system helps speed testing

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Digital images from the WASPLab, TriCore’s new testing machine that provides for faster test results of patient specimen samples. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — TriCore Reference Laboratories, the largest clinical laboratory serving New Mexico hosptials, physicians and other healthcare providers, is expanding its medical testing expertise thanks to the help of a robotic-based system called WASP.

The Walk Away Specimen Processor speeds up specimen processing and the identification of bacterial cultures by using a high-resolution camera and probe to test specimen growth.  The highly automated WASPlab system, which uses digital imaging, can reduce the turnaround time in analyzing pathogens, giving doctors results faster to better treat patients, said Karissa Culbreath, TriCore’s scientific director for infectious disease.

The efficiency benefits the company, staff and doctors and can save the lives of patients, said Culbreath. “It doesn’t help a patient to have (lab test) results in a week or two.”

With 60 locations statewide, TriCore staffers now can do workups and get results in a matter of hours rather than days. It is the first reference lab in the state to invest in the WASP technology, which is sold by COPAN Diagnostics, Inc.

TriCore CEO Khosrow Shotorbani estimated the cost in excess of $1.2 million. “It’s a multi-year spend for the company,” which will be recouped in an improved workflow for lab staffers, he said.  The WASPlab is housed at TriCore’s facility at 1001 Woodward Place NE in Albuquerque.

WASP’s assistance is needed because there is a shortage of trained microbiology personnel in New Mexico and training new ones to do the tasks that WASP will automate has been time-consuming. Full laboratory automation is a smart business move, said Dr. Michael Crossey, chief medical officer for TriCore. “This (WASP) is replacing manual pushing around of materials and letting WASP’s robotic-based system move cultures around instead.”

The upshot: microbiologists can spend more time focusing on the most difficult procedures and tasks, issuing results faster to providers and their patients.

Improved specimen processing means physicians can pinpoint the best medications or treatments. especially for patients suffering from infectious and parasitic diseases.

Founded in 1998 as a regional laboratory consolidation, TriCore is New Mexico’s largest medical laboratory. The company offers more than 1,700 laboratory tests ranging from routine (cholesterol screens, glucose testing and the like) to highly specialized, or esoteric, testing.

“We generate about 70 percent of New Mexico’s lab test information,” said Shotorbani.

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