by BARRY CRAIG
Q: What would you consider the top 5 criteria for someone choosing a chemistry analyzer for a POL running tests for 5-10 family practice or internal medicine providers? In working on this process I've been comparing the CV's for Proficiency testing for analytes on two systems. One is a system that has hundreds of sites; the other has fewer than 20 in their peer group. Do CV values become more significant with bigger peer groups?
A: My top five criteria for choosing an analyzer may not be everyone’s view, but here goes.
1. Service – How good is their 1-800 service? Do they answer promptly? Do they guarantee a service or repair call within 24 hours of notification? Are the repair people employees and factory trained or are they “contracted” repair people with no affiliation to the company that makes the instrument? Are parts readily available or do you sit for weeks waiting on a part from China?
2. Cost – How does the instrument, reagents, calibrators, and controls cost compare to others in the market? The cheapest may be cheap for a reason. How much will the service contract cost once the warranty runs out?
3. Performance – As the question suggests, look at the performance of your proposed instrument by examining its performance on PT testing. How well does it score to comparable instruments? Does it have only a few units in use or hundreds? The more units in use, the better it should score on the PT events. Even if only a few units are listed, look at the performance first. Fewer units doesn’t mean it is not a well-made instrument, it may just be newer to the market. Ask for references for sites already using the instrument. Try to find units in use independently and not who the sales guy suggests you call.
4. Ease of use – Does it have a multitude of maintenance steps daily? Does it require constant replacement of tubing, filters, etc.? Does the instrument program easily or do the operational steps take a lot of time? How thorough is the training for the instrument?
5. Reliability – Check with as many sources as possible to determine the “downtime” factor. It does not matter how pretty it is, or how cheap it is if the machine is not working. Not running means not billing. Check with the sales guy, the company that makes the machine, anyone who can help you find units that have been in operation for a while.
Q: We have been using small chemistry analyzers for several months but due to the cost of cartridges and small profit margins we are looking to expand our lab to a larger analyzer and add hematology to our lab. I am gathering information on what my best options are. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
A: You should always look at your current test volume. If you are only running a small volume now or sending out a small volume to a reference lab, you may not have enough testing to warrant purchasing a larger unit or adding testing such as CBCs.
Figure out your break-even point on cost and then look at how many tests you actually send out or perform.
Remember, you cannot suddenly increase your number of test. The send out history will tell the tale of whether you need to move up, stay pat, or fold.
Owner, Laboratory Consulting, LLC. Regulatory compliance consulting for CLIA, COLA and CAP laboratories. Specializing in urine drug testing laboratories.