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UVA Enlists Robotic Help to Enhance Blood Testing

The University of Virginia Health System has revolutionized how it tests patient blood samples, automating its primary testing facility with high-tech robots that are getting doctors results quickly and efficiently – and allowing UVA to offer a wider range of blood tests to boot.

Speedy turnaround times for blood tests are often vital for physicians making important patient-care decisions. They can literally be the difference in life and death. “We are known for receiving the sickest patients, and we want to get the correct treatment to them as rapidly as possible,” explained Doris Haverstick, PhD, UVA’s director of clinical chemistry.

Randy Vandevander, senior manager of UVA’s now automated Clinical Core Laboratory, noted that in one instance, a doctor in the Emergency Department ordered an additional test after sending over a patient blood sample. When the physician went to check on the expected turnaround time, “it had already been sampled, tested and the tube was back in the [storage] rack here,” Vandevander said. “That’s just how quick the system is.”

“As soon as somebody decides what test they want, they punch it in the computer,” he explained. “Their computer talks to our computer, and it will be done in no time.”

Blood Testing at Warp Speed

With all the equipment in place, the inside of the Clinical Core Laboratory off West Main Street looks a bit like a futuristic bottling plant. Sealed tubes filled with blood march along enclosed conveyor belts to various analyzers, where the machines remove the cap, conduct the necessary tests, reseal the tube and then return the samples to cold storage. All without any human involvement needed.

Vandevander recalled that some lab workers were skeptical of the automation project at first. Some worried that the robots might take their jobs, but that was never the goal, Vandevander said. Instead, he and other UVA officials wanted to spare the techs the endless hours of carting blood samples about. “Somebody was centrifuging samples. Somebody was then taking those samples and moving them to an analyzer. Somebody then had to return the samples to storage. So really, we’ve eliminated a lot of that sneaker traffic, so hopefully it allows our techs to not wear out their knees and joints quite as quickly,” he said. “Our technologists can get back to doing what they were trained to do, and that’s looking at the results that are coming up on these analyzers.”

Ensuring Excellence

Vandevander noted that hiring top-tier technologists is a growing challenge. “Nationwide, there’s like a 14 percent shortage of clinical laboratory scientists, and those are the backbone, degreed individuals who are doing the testing,” he said. “So this helps buffer that a little bit for us.”

With the automation, UVA can not only keep up with the needs of its growing patient population but expand the range of blood tests it conducts in house. Like other hospitals, UVA relies on outside companies to handle less common tests. For example, a blood sample might have to be sent to Minnesota, and the results are delayed until it can get there and be analyzed. Now UVA can add new tests as needed, speeding up the process and potentially reducing costs. “This is making for a lot greater capacity for testing than what we had before,” Vandevander said.

David E. Bruns, MD, who was director of clinical chemistry at the time the automation project was initiated, noted that the project was essential for UVA to maintain the high quality of its blood testing. “The turnaround times that we have here are incredibly good,” he said. “But if we want to be able to keep that up with the increase in the workload, this is what we needed to do. It’s been very exciting, and it will have real benefits for our patients.”

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UVA Health System is an academic health system that includes a 612-bed hospital, the UVA School of Medicine, a level I trauma center, nationally recognized cancer and heart centers and primary and specialty clinics throughout Central Virginia. UVA is recognized for excellence by U.S. News & World Report, Best Doctors in America and America's Top Doctors.

Related items

  • UVA Breast Care Program Earns National Accreditation

    For its high-quality care, the UVA Breast Care Program has earned full accreditation from the American College of Surgeons’ National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC).

    The three-year accreditation follows a review that includes both an in-person survey and a written application. According to the NAPBC, accreditation “is only given to those centers that have voluntarily committed to provide the highest level of quality breast care and that undergo a rigorous evaluation process and review of their performance.”

    “NAPBC accreditation challenges breast cancer centers to enhance the care they provide by addressing patient-centered needs and measuring the quality of the care they deliver against national standards,” said Tracey Gosse, MBA, MSN, RN-BC, Breast Care Program manager. “I am proud of our entire team for their hard work to meet these standards every day.”

    Centers that earn accreditation meet national standards in areas that include quality improvement, clinical management, research, prevention and early detection programs, staff education and community outreach. According to the NAPBC, accredited centers provide access to quality breast care close to home that feature:

    • comprehensive care, including a full range of state-of-the-art services
    • a multidisciplinary team approach to coordinate the best treatment options
    • information about clinical trials and new treatment options

    The UVA Breast Care Program has an interdisciplinary group of specialists to help women with breast cancer and benign breast diseases, including radiologists, breast surgeons, oncologists, nurse practitioners, nurse navigators and genetic counselors.

    Patients can also access the latest screening and diagnostic technology, including 3D mammography, screening breast ultrasound breast MRI. Available support services include nutrition counseling and exercise planning. As part of the UVA Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, the Breast Care Program also provides access to groundbreaking clinical trials.

    “I congratulate our physicians and team members for earning this accreditation through their commitment to serving our patients with the latest treatments in a supportive, caring environment,” said Pamela M. Sutton-Wallace, chief executive officer of UVA Medical Center.

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    UVA Health System is an academic health system that includes a 612-bed hospital, the UVA School of Medicine, a level I trauma center, nationally recognized cancer and heart centers and primary and specialty clinics throughout Central Virginia. UVA is recognized for excellence by U.S. News & World Report, Best Doctors in Americaand America's Top Doctors.

    About UVA Cancer Center
    UVA Cancer Center is accredited by the Commission on Cancer and is one of 69 National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer centers in the U.S. for its work in cancer research, prevention, detection and treatment. UVA Cancer Center provides comprehensive, world-class cancer treatment in an environment of caring for patients across Virginia, led by doctors who have been honored by publications such as Best Doctors in America® and America’s Top Doctors®.

  • U.S. News & World Report Ranks UVA as No. 1 Hospital in Virginia

    The 2017-2018 U.S. News & World Report “Best Hospitals” guide rates University of Virginia Medical Center as the No. 1 hospital in Virginia and honors 10 UVA specialties as among the best in the U.S. This is the second consecutive year UVA is ranked the No. 1 hospital in Virginia.

    Six specialties are rated among the top 50 nationally:

    Four specialties are recognized as “high performing,” rating among the top 10 percent nationally of their respective specialties:

    In the U.S. News ratings of common procedures and conditions, UVA is rated “high performing” – the best possible rating – in six: abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, aortic valve surgery, heart bypass surgery, heart failure, colon cancer surgery and lung cancer surgery. The ratings are generally based on care received by inpatients ages 65 or older.

    UVA Medical Center’s honors follow recognition in June from U.S. News for UVA Children’s Hospital, which has four specialties – cardiology & heart surgery, diabetes & endocrinology, neonatology and orthopedics – ranked in the top 50 nationally in the publication’s 2017-2018 “Best Children’s Hospitals” guide.

    “We are pleased to see our physicians and team members across UVA recognized nationally for their commitment to providing the highest-quality care for our patients,” said Pamela M. Sutton-Wallace, chief executive officer of UVA Medical Center. 

    The U.S. News rankings and ratings are based on multiple factors, such as patient safety, patient outcomes, advanced technologies and patient services, physician surveys and accreditations from outside groups that include the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Magnet recognition for nursing care from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. UVA has received Magnet recognition and is an NCI-designated cancer center.

    “These awards reflect the ongoing collaboration of our care teams to find ways to improve on our excellent, specialized care,” said Richard P. Shannon, MD, UVA’s executive vice president for health affairs.

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    UVA Health System is an academic health system that includes a 612-bed hospital, the UVA School of Medicine, a level I trauma center, nationally recognized cancer and heart centers and primary and specialty clinics throughout Central Virginia. UVA is recognized for excellence by U.S. News & World Report, Best Doctors in Americaand America's Top Doctors.

  • Global Research Priorities Identified for Sudden Unexpected Infant Death

    The scientific journal Pediatrics today published a paper from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, the American SIDS Institute and partner international organizations which sets out new global priorities for tackling Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID).

    The paper, titled "Research Priorities in Sudden Unexpected Infant Death: An International Consensus," highlights the Global Action and Prioritization of Sudden infant death (GAPS) project, run in collaboration with the Lullaby Trust in the United Kingdom, Red Nose (formerly SIDS and Kids) in Australia and the International Society for the Prevention of Perinatal and Infant Death (ISPID).

    The project is the first to bring together both professionals and bereaved family members from 25 countries to achieve consensus on the top 10 SUID research priorities. These priorities aim to focus the efforts of the SUID research community and ultimately put an end to sudden unexpected deaths worldwide by identifying the causes, which still elude researchers.

    About Sudden Unexpected Infant Death

    In the United States alone, almost 4,000 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly each year at a rate of 0.93 deaths per 1,000 live births. Since the launch of the groundbreaking “Back to Sleep” campaign in the 1990s, the number of sudden infant deaths has fallen by more than 50 percent.

    Dr. Fern Hauck, professor of family medicine and SIDS researcher at UVA and a member of the American SIDS Institute’s Research Advisory Council, said, “Sudden infant death is a global problem and needs a concentrated effort by international researchers. We have to have a clear focus and target our research funds where they can have the biggest impact.” Hauck is lead author of the paper.

    Dr. Betty McEntire, chief executive of the American SIDS Institute and co-author of the paper, added: “Imagine the horror of finding your sleeping baby is actually dead. There is no greater tragedy a family can face. While sudden unexpected deaths in infancy are less common than they were 30 years ago, we must not be complacent. The GAPS research priorities now provide a road map for researchers around the world to make significant gains in tackling SUID. We are proud of our achievements in identifying these 10 global research priorities. As a world leader in tackling sudden unexpected infant deaths, the American SIDS Institute is committed to finding the underlying cause and eliminating these tragic deaths.”

    Preventing SIDS

    In response to the GAPS findings, the American SIDS Institute has developed a new aggressive research agenda and is urging researchers to drive the priorities forward. Dr. McEntire said, “We are calling on donors and research funders to help us beat sudden infant death once and for all.”

    The 10 international research priorities for tackling SUID:

    1. Studying mechanisms leading to death and how they interact with environmental risk factors.
    2. Enabling best practice processes and systematic data collection for accurate classification of SUID de­aths to inform research and prevention.
    3. Developing and evaluating new ways to make safe sleep campaigns more effective.
    4. Understanding to what extent social and cultural factors affect parental choice in sleep practices and responses to risk reduction campaigns.
    5. Identifying specific biomarkers to assist pathologists in determining the cause of death.
    6. Understanding the role of genetic factors in SUID risk.
    7. Understanding what mechanisms underlie SUID risk at different ages.
    8. Conducting further research on the role of abnormal or immature brain anatomy and physiology.
    9. Better understanding the practice of sharing any sleep surface with an infant, notably how it interacts with other factors to make it more or less risky.
    10. Identifying what factors are associated with SUID where all aspects of recommended risk reduction have been followed.

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    UVA Health System is an academic health system that includes a 612-bed hospital, the UVA School of Medicine, a level I trauma center, nationally recognized cancer and heart centers and primary and specialty clinics throughout Central Virginia. UVA is recognized for excellence by U.S. News & World Report, Best Doctors in Americaand America's Top Doctors.

  • How Texting Can Protect Babies From Sudden Death

    A series of educational videos delivered by text or email successfully encouraged new mothers to use safe sleep practices for their babies, reducing the risk of sudden unexpected infant death, a new study has found. The research comes from the University of Virginia Schools of Medicine and Nursing, Yale University School of Medicine and Boston University School of Medicine.

    A complementary program in which nurses delivered safe-sleep messages and modeled safe-sleep practices did not significantly influence adherence to the recommended sleep practices. That finding aligns with previous studies that found that mothers usually intended to follow the safe-sleep recommendations but then, when they returned home, did not.

    The mobile health program, on the other hand, offered a way to provide messages during periods when parents are most likely to have difficulty following the recommendations, the researchers found. “For instance, many parents worry about their baby choking when they’re on the back. Therefore, we sent them a video showing them that this is not true,” said Rachel Moon, MD, of the UVA School of Medicine. “A lot of parents can be overwhelmed when caring for a new baby, partly because they are not sure what to do or get different advice from different people. We think that the videos and support that we provided in the texts and emails helped to give parents the information that they needed when they needed it and also addressed common concerns many parents have.”

    SIDS and Sudden Unexpected Infant Death

    Sudden infant death syndrome, commonly called SIDS, has been halved by the Back to Sleep national public awareness campaign, the researchers noted. Despite that, approximately 3,500 infants still died during their sleep in 2014, either from SIDS, strangulation, suffocation or unknown causes.

    To reduce that number, the researchers developed two interventions that were designed to be readily adaptable for widespread use. They then recruited new mothers at 16 U.S. hospitals to test the effect of the interventions; 1,200 women ultimately completed surveys about their behavior.

    The mobile health intervention consisted of text messages and emails timed to provide the mothers useful information, including instructional videos, at periods when they were likely to confront barriers with complying with recommended safe-sleep practices. This significantly improved compliance with several recommended practices when the infants were at least 2 months of age, including:

    • placing babies on their backs rather than their stomachs;
    • keeping them in the room with the mother but not in the same bed;
    • avoiding soft bedding that could strangle or suffocate them;
    • and using pacifiers.

    While the nursing intervention alone did not significantly improve any of those behaviors, the study found that combining it with the mobile health program produced the highest adherence to the recommendation that babies sleep on their backs.

    The study achieved rates of back sleeping (92.5 percent) and roomsharing without bedsharing (85.9 percent), which were much higher than achieved in previous trials and in the mothers who received different educational videos (control group) in this study, the researchers noted.

    “We’re hoping to expand this study to larger groups of mothers, particularly those who are higher risk, to better understand what types of messages work the best, and what the best timing is for these messages,” said Fern Hauck, MD, of the UVA School of Medicine. “We think that this technology will allow us to provide parents with better information on how to keep their babies safe.”

    Findings Published

    The researchers have described their findings in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    The research team consisted of Moon, Hauck, Eve R. Colson, Ann L. Kellams, Nicole L. Geller, Timothy Heeren, Stephen M. Kerr, Emily E. Drake, Kawai Tanabe, Mary McClain and Michael J. Corwin.

    The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, grant R01HD072815-01, and the CJ Foundation for SIDS.

  • UVA Launching Group Pregnancy Care, Education Program

    To improve health outcomes for new moms and babies and reduce health disparities, University of Virginia Children’s Hospital and UVA Women’s Services are launching a group pregnancy care and education program in August.

    Backed by an $8,600 grant from the March of Dimes, the program will bring together groups of six to eight women who are in the same stage of their pregnancy for nine two-hour classes – including prenatal checkups – beginning in the 12th week of pregnancy.

    Led by a certified nurse midwife from UVA, the classes will use the March of Dimes’ “Becoming a Mom” curriculum. Aside from receiving their prenatal care checkups, the classes will also cover common questions such as healthy eating, how to handle stress, things to avoid during pregnancy, what to expect during labor and tips on caring for a newborn. Moms-to-be will also receive a tour of the UVA Medical Center. Women will not have to pay any additional cost beyond their regular prenatal care copays for these group classes.

    “We want to protect the health of all new moms and babies and recognize that some of our patients may prefer to receive their prenatal care and support in a non-typical healthcare setting,” said Donald Dudley, MD, the program’s co-director and UVA’s director of maternal-fetal medicine.

    Addressing health disparities and increasing access to care is an identified priority area for improvement in the recently published 2016 MAPP2Health community health assessment and health improvement plan. One objective of MAPP2Health is to decrease the African-American infant mortality rate in the health district (Virginia’s Planning District 10 includes the City of Charlottesville, and Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, and Nelson counties) by more than 50 percent by 2019.

    “We believe these group care sessions will provide a relaxed and friendly setting where new moms can get the information they need to give their babies a healthy start,” said Kate Becker, a certified nurse midwife and the program’s co-director.

    How to Register

    The first round of small group prenatal visits will be held from 6-8 p.m. Thursdays beginning Aug. 10 at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1118 Preston Ave. in Charlottesville.

    For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 434.924.2500 and ask for information on group prenatal care.

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    UVA Health System is an academic health system that includes a 612-bed hospital, the UVA School of Medicine, a level I trauma center, nationally recognized cancer and heart centers and primary and specialty clinics throughout Central Virginia. UVA is recognized for excellence by U.S. News & World Report, Best Doctors in Americaand America's Top Doctors.

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