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Express Lab becomes first automated medical lab in east Idaho

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IDAHO FALLS — When doctors examine a patient, they sometimes will take samples of a person’s blood or bodily fluids to try and determine what’s wrong. Once the samples are collected, they are taken to a medical laboratory where they are tested for various diseases or illnesses.

Some doctor’s offices and hospitals have a staff that processes those samples in house, but many clinics don’t. In that case, the processing of samples has to be outsourced and taken to a lab somewhere else.

Express Lab is an independent reference laboratory that gathers samples from medical providers throughout eastern Idaho. Thanks to a new system provided by New Jersey company Ortho Diagnostics, the lab is now the region’s first automated medical lab. Because of its upgrades, the lab will be faster and more accurate without having to manually process samples.

Express Lab manager Lori Leask says the upgrade will increase the lab’s effectiveness by about 30 percent.

“This automated system allows us to be a lot more accurate as well as increase our speed,” Leask says. “The faster those results come back, the faster those physicians are able to make decisions.”

Specimen tubes being loaded for testing. | Natalia Hepworth,

Previously, samples had to be processed manually by lab technicians. Every time a person handles a tube, there is a risk for human error. Lab techs no longer have to handle the tubes, and Leask says this makes the process safer for technicians and allows them to focus on reviewing results.

“It just keeps them all safe and reduces the exposure to both the patient and to my techs,” Leask says.

Now, specimen tubes are loaded and sorted robotically on a processing track. From there, tubes move to a decapper and then to individual analyzers. This all takes place in the enclosed automated system. Once the tubes are analyzed they are moved into storage. Results are electronically transmitted back to the Express Lab computer system and sent to doctors or healthcare providers instantaneously.

“We know where those samples are at all times. Even though my techs aren’t … hands-on with the samples like they used to, they have software that keeps track of every sample,” Leask says.

Wait times for lab technicians finding tubes have been eliminated as the system catalogs specimen tubes and knows the whereabouts of each one.

“(Tubes) don’t even have to leave the track to be able to sample on the machines,” she says. “It takes a lot of the manual work out that we would normally have to do.”

Photos taken by Natalia Hepworth,

She says this project has been in the works for the last two years. The cost of the five new machines in this modular system was about $1 million. Because the system is modular it can be expanded.

“It’s a large investment, but we feel like it will pay for itself in helping us be more streamlined and have better productivity and a faster turn around,” Leask says.

Photos taken by Natalia Hepworth,

“We’re really excited because this system allows us to continue to grow and bring on additional providers and additional business without having to take on more employees,” Leask says.

Leask says the lab’s focus is on the community as it works with hospitals, doctor’s offices and the public to take care of their laboratory needs.

“Every sample is a person’s blood. It’s a person … and we want to take care of that person,” Leask says.

Express Lab is located on 910 Washington Pkwy Ste B in Idaho Falls | Natalia Hepworth,