Wael Hassan, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM
Anytime informatics is mentioned in the laboratory environment, laboratorians think about the Laboratory Information System (LIS) and relate the word to IT and technical support that is beyond the laboratory scope of business. Although informatics is related to the laboratory information system, the word encompasses a lot more.
Informatics is the science that deals with data mining, processing, and extracting significance from the data. Simply put, informatics is the science of turning data into information and knowledge.
The laboratory is an evergreen source of data. It generates thousands of data points on an hourly basis; that data is turned into information in the laboratory information system that then transforms it into knowledge to healthcare providers.
Increasing Lab Data
Collecting data in the laboratory depends heavily on knowledge about chemistry, microbiology, and hematology techniques. Knowledge about chemical reactions, cell structures, and biochemical reaction shaped the laboratory product in the past.
Advances in molecular diagnostics and the human genome project produced a large volume of data. Informatics was able to provide scientists with the appropriate tools needed to process such a large volume of data and to extract helpful information in a timely fashion.
Medical laboratory scientists can now remotely access microbiology plates, choose a colony to isolate, or run a biochemical test. The physicians can access hematology/pathology slides remotely from anywhere to identify cells and make a diagnosis.
Affects on Lab Staffing
In the past, the presence of knowledgeable and welltrained individuals was a crucial factor to the laboratory success. The lab depended heavily on qualified, welltrained staff to succeed in providing the community with the quality service they need.
Human factors are a significant contributor to errors in the laboratory environment. Quality in the laboratory environment comes with a cost; at the same time quality can drive the cost of laboratory testing down.
The cost of staffing the laboratory contributes to the high cost of tests. Instrument manufacturers understand the need of their clients to decrease the cost while maintaining quality. They are trying to accomplish that by utilizing advancements in technology.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques became a crucial part of the laboratory. Image analysis techniques are being used in hematology and pathology. These techniques provide the laboratory with highly accurate results with minimal staffing.
“As advances in technologies continue to flourish and make their way to the different clinical laboratory disciplines, the need for staff members that understand the concepts of informatics will rise.”
Informatics in Clinical Laboratory Education
As advances in technologies continue to flourish and make their way to the different clinical laboratory disciplines, the need for staff members that understand the concepts of informatics will rise. Currently, laboratory education programs do not support or include informatics as part of the curriculum. Courses in statistics, image analysis techniques, and data analysis are needed to provide students with the tools for the future and the ever-changing landscape of the industry.
In my opinion, clinical laboratory educational programs need to be overhauled to match the rapid changes in the clinical laboratory field. Although basic sciences remain the heart of the industry, informatics is now the brain and the main driver that controls the outcomes of the clinical laboratory.