Misdiagnosis can often spell the difference between life and death for many Australians. It can mean a delay in proper treatment, or even a denial that treatment is even necessary. In many cases, these delays can be enormously costly, as they can prevent intervention when it might actually prevent harm, How Technology can Eliminate Laboratory Errors in Blood Tests.
One of the most pressing forms of misdiagnosis concerns blood samples. We use blood to diagnose a whole range of diseases, and to evaluate the overall health of a patient.
They can identify infections, indicate the effectiveness of a given organ, or even screen for certain genetic conditions.
Of course, it’s practically impossible to eliminate blood error entirely. But there are things we can do to eliminate the risk of a false positive – or, more damaging, a false negative. Blood sample errors have many causes, but a few stand out as especially commonplace, and therefore worth addressing.
Not enough sample
Obtaining accurate, actionable results depends on obtaining enough blood to work with. When blood arrives at the lab, it needs to be spun so that it separates into blood cells and the liquid plasma in which they are suspended in the bloodstream. This means a generous sample is needed to compensate for the loss.
When a blood sample is insufficiently mixed immediately after it’s been collected, then there is a danger that the blood will clot. Patients are often advised to give their samples and gentle swirl after each droplet has been collected in order to avoid this.
Haemolysis is what occurs when red blood cells are destroyed. A tear in the cell lining will cause the haemoglobin inside to spurt out, contaminating the surrounding sample. This tends to occur when too much pressure has been exerted on the sample during extraction. For example, in finger-prick samples, there’s more opportunity to squeeze the finger or scrape it on the tube.
What can be Done?
Technology can help us to avoid, or at least mitigate, these problems. Where home finger-prick tests are being used, such as with diabetes patients, a solution comes in the form of superior home-testing kits which reduce the likelihood of error. Naturally, the patient will also need to understand how to safely use the equipment they’re presented with, too.
In a clinical setting, where large numbers of samples need to be extracted speedily and shipped en masse to an external laboratory for analysis, anything that can be done to reduce the labour cost of extraction will necessarily lead to better accuracy, as it’ll give staff more time to perform the procedure correctly.
Measuring the concentration of plasma in a given blood sample is achieve through a device known as a refractometer, available from suppliers like RS Components. It works by shining light through the sample and measuring how much light returns to the receiver. As these devices grow more sophisticated, the precision of results will gradually improve and the likelihood of error will decrease. In the coming years, new technologies like lab-on-chip testing systems and miniaturised robots promise to make the improvement even more sudden – but we aren’t quite there yet.