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Suraksha Diagnostics: Betting big on automation

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The Kolkata-based diagnostics chain believes that success is not only in terms of generating the highest revenue rather in being successful to achieve a permanent place in the hearts of thousands of its customers by offering the latest technologies and world class services in a most affordable and customer-friendly way

By Sanjiv Das

Automation has helped diagnostics chains to improve operational efficiencies, maintain quality standards and minimise error. Kolkata-based Suraksha Diagnostics with the help of AI has been able to optimise its operations and  make its tests more precise, safer and faster. The lab  offers both diagnostic and polyclinic services to its clients and customers. In diagnostics, it offers services in pathology and radiology. Scope of pathology service extends to clinical biochemistry, haematology and immunohaematology, clinical pathology, histopathology and cytopathology, microbiology and serology, molecular pathology, molecular cytogenetics and LC-MS/MS. The radiology units have almost all modern and latest technologies like digital X-ray, USG, CT scan (16 slice), MRI (1.5 Tesla), mammography etc. and services are provided from SIEMENS, PHILIPS, GE Healthcare etc. The lab also offers cardiology (ECG, Echo, TMT, Holter monitoring), gastroenterology (endoscopy, colonoscopy etc.), neurology (EMG, EEG, NCV) and diabetes-related management of patients through more than 500 physicians.

According to Dr Abhik Banerjee, Director- Quality Assurance and Senior Consultant- Pathology, Suraksha Diagnostics, has a centralised process for collection of blood samples to a single location. The lab provides for quick access to samples with specimen tracking, easy retrieval of requested samples, which are some of the features that truly transforms it into a smart, modern, clinical laboratory.

Says Dr Banerjee, “We cater to a work load of approximately 7000 samples on a daily basis only in our reference lab, Kolkata. The Suraksha family consists of more than 1200 employees, 500 empanelled physicians, 50 in-house radiologists, 20 laboratory consultants and an enviable number of supporting staffs.”

Spread across 40000 sq ft area in New Town, Kolkata, the lab has taken the full advantage of AI and automation to improve volumes. It has recently incorporated ‘Aptio’ automation, the robotic track (track-based automation solution). So, how does the newly installed automation system benefit the lab?

Automation-enabled smart lab

APTIO automation allows direct front-loading of urgent and low-volume samples to meet the most critical deadlines. The 26-metre long AI-enabled robotic track comes with a complete range of pre and post-analytical sample-processing modules and the most advanced automated haematology, immunoassay and clinical chemistry analysers. Its automated sample loading and handling (tube sorting, offloading) feature helps laboratory staff from time-consuming, low-value tasks. The track-based automation solution, which effectively combines different clinical disciplines, test methodologies and analysers.

APTIO automation also assists the staff to segregate different types of samples (EDTA whole blood, serum, urine), one from each other. The track also reduces pre-analytical errors by detecting any mismatch between test request and tube type, identifies problem samples (e.g., misread bar code, missing work order) and draws attention of the operator. It has established interfaces to analysers enabling faster routine and specialty testing.

Simultaneous STAT and routine testing on a single track with optional front-loading for urgent or low volume samples to instruments enables laboratory supervisors to deal with critical deadlines in a very user-friendly way.

Claiming to have introduced its LC-MS/MS (Liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry) for the first time in Eastern India for detection of inborn error of metabolism by newborn screening and 25 OH Vitamin D analysis, Suraksha also has its own molecular cytogenetics department.

Apart from analytical area, digital token management system (Queue management), prefixed barcoding of vaccutainers, robust laboratory information management system (LIMS), dedicated CRM (customer relationship management) team, lab co-ordinator desk, SMS alert, mobile application, are some of the few of the numerous facilities offered by Suraksha.

While the lab thrives on automation, it has also put in place a QA/QC mechanism that maintains high quality standards.

IT-enabled quality control mechanism

Suraksha Diagnostics has an experienced and qualified team of ‘Laboratory Operations’ and ‘Central Quality cell’ headed by Laboratory Director who is responsible for day-to-day lab activity, designing and preparing SOPs, quality policies, implementation of quality management system (QMS), internal audits, accreditation of the laboratory, selection and requirement of staffs including lab doctors and technicians, selection of equipment required, liasoning with the equipment vendors, selection of tests need to be outsourced, tie up with the other referral labs, introducing new tests, staff training, competency assessment and technical support to satellite labs.

It has a dedicated IT cell which ensures seamless performance of the information systems during operations, server management, round the clock networking / connectivity, hardware and software maintenance, automation process, data security, retrieval of data and records management.

Managing the logistics

While they maintain QA/QC mechanism, the lab also has a strong logistics system. At Suraksha, sample transportation is one of the key areas which directly influence pre-analytical quality of laboratory service and Suraksha is committed to ensure the best performance in this segment. The logistics service is outsourced to various agencies which are reputed and competent in handling biological samples. The logistic boys carry the sample from all centres to the laboratory where actual sample testing takes place. Dedicated supervisors/logistic officer from the agency coordinate with the courier boys and despatch officers of the centres. The supervisors report to the Sample Receiving In charge of the laboratory.

Suraksha Diagnostics provides sample transportation bags (with Biohazard symbols) to all logistic personnel which carry sufficient gel packs, Ziplock bags, spillage kit etc. The logistic service is available from 7 am to 7 pm. Laboratory accession department can track the sample movement at any point of time from MICROSOFT DYNAMIC AXAPTA, the resource planning and management software. The despatch officer at centre and accession officer in lab are responsible to check and monitor the temperature of the samples during hand over (from centre to logistic boy and from logistic boy to lab accession department respectively) with the help of digital thermometer available inside each bag during each transport. Laboratory also maintains an error log system for monitoring the quality of submitted specimens and correcting problems, if any during sample transportation.

Partnerships and investments

To improve and expand its services further, Suraksha Diagnostics has recently partnered with San Francisco-based biotech company which will focus  on making translational genomics technologies accessible globally to enable quick detection of diseases at scale. Led by Dr Joydeep Mukherjee, a researcher in oncology and infectious diseases genomics in Toronto and UCSF, Cluegenix will make available to Suraksha the latest developments in molecular biology.

The diagnostics chain has also  partnered with several hospitals, corporate and government agencies to meet the needs of affordable and reliable diagnostic services. It also offers services for the beneficiaries under Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) under Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.

Suraksha Diagnostics’ APTIO automation itself costs in crores. Cutting-edge technologies like LC-MS/MS, NGS have incurred huge investments by the diagnostic chain since the last two years and there are plans to extend the services in other states including North East India.

The way forward

In the years to come, Suraksha Diagnostics plans to come up with 10-15 new centres and four to six satellite labs in different parts of India. The cost of investment is projected to be Rs 70-100 crores. As they plan to expand their services, the only concern will be in maintaining the quality standards across all lab centres. As volumes grow, the diagnostic chain will require to balance between cost, quality and quantity in order to sustain the business in the long run. The question is that can the diagnostic chain afford to automate all its labs or will it continue to build on a centralised lab model and expand its collection centres. What strategy will the diagnostic chain adopt to thrive in the future? Will this Kolkata lab still remain the focal point of Suraksha’s success story?

We will have to wait and watch!

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