Prior to 1996, ARUP's Specimen Processing Department used an assembly-line approach to accomplish its tasks, such as order entry, labeling, sorting, and pouring aliquots. Although it is easier to train new employees on individual steps, an assembly line can lead to bottlenecks and lower overall quality. Therefore, ARUP's re-engineered processes now utilize individual workstations, where each team member takes full responsibility for an entire shipment or portion of a shipment, and processes all orders from start to finish. Studies have shown, and ARUP's experience has confirmed, that both efficiency and quality improve greatly when employees are given full responsibility for a product or process.
Re-engineering Specimen Processing would not have been possible without ARUP's new Expert Specimen Processing (ESP) software system. ARUP developed the ESP system to facilitate rules-based automation of Specimen Processing. The specimen accessioning process is performed in ESP, which sends validated data to ARUP's LIS (PathNet) and LAS (APX) (see the Glossary for explanations of LIS and LAS). Automated storage of specimens and complete specimen tracking are also accomplished through ESP. ARUP's ESP system has greatly simplified and shortened the training time for new specimen processors, enabling them to focus more on the actual orders being processed.
Many other processes were also re-engineered as part of ARUP's overall plan. ARUP's courier quality assurance and manifesting operation was partially merged into the specimen processing operation in order to take advantage of some features of ESP. These two functions will be further integrated in the future. The Automated Track System, through its delivery of specimens to sorter lanes that are specific for particular tests or groups of tests, has eliminated multiple manual sorting steps, manual transfers of specimens between labs, and manual tracking of specimen locations. Other systems have automated much of the loading of specimen tubes into trays for storage for repeat or additional testing, placing these trays into storage, retrieving the trays from storage, and retrieving individual tubes from trays. More detail about these and other re-engineered processes can be found in other sections of the Automation Initiative.