Troubleshooting Complex Instrumentation

When we talk about technological advances in laboratory medicine, the discussion usually focuses on analyzers, methodology, or ancillary equipment that makes testing more accurate or efficient (hello conveyer belts and molecular testing; goodbye bleeding time). While all of those are valid conversations, one component that gets left out of the mix is troubleshooting. After all, an instrument that runs 600 tests an hour is nothing more than a place to put sticky notes if it’s not working properly.

When I first started in the laboratory, “troubleshooting” more often than not meant “put a ‘do not use’ note on the analyzer and call in the service rep.” Unless the fix was something simple (like removing a jammed cartridge), we left it to the professionals. That attitude gradually changed, however. When I left the bench, most of my coworkers thought nothing of “lifting the lid” to change tubing, observing the inner workings of an analyzer as it operated, and repairing an instrument with the assistance of a service rep over the phone. In fact, manufacturers trained us fairly extensively in troubleshooting each time we bought a new analyzer. Thanks to the ubiquity of the internet, it is commonplace for a service rep to remotely take control of an analyzer in order to diagnose and repair software (and even some hardware) issues while offsite.

So what’s next? Videoconferencing software so a service rep can see a malfunction in action, maybe, or virtual reality software that can assist a bench technologist with complex repairs. Maybe even analyzers that diagnose or repair themselves!

What do you think? What is the next innovation in clinical laboratory instrumentation in terms of troubleshooting?


Kelly Swails, MT(ASCP), is a laboratory professional, recovering microbiologist, and web editor for Lab Medicine.

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