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Stepwise Success

Automating LIS Maintenance

Published August 9, 2016 6:01 AM by Scott Warner

If your lab is like most, you have one or maybe two IT geeks who like computers enough to figure out how your information system works. To everyone else it’s a means to an end at best or an irritant at worst. How tests are built and maintained is way off the radar of most people.

Partly, that’s because of the hidden nature of most software. A GUI (Graphical User Interface) is designed to keep it that way, and it’s one good reason that “updates” can be frustrating. Bugs are squashed beneath the GUI only to spawn elsewhere in the code. This is understandable, considering that complex systems can easily have thousands of lines of code to maintain. The more features that get added, the harder it is to squash bugs. Coding is a far from linear process.

Your LIS vendor, like most businesses, likes to work efficiently, and most have canned scripts that can automate tasks. If, for example, you want to set all physicians in the database to have a certain report setting, it’s worth asking your vendor. They may have already built such a program to avoid endless keystrokes. A computer can easily perform any such repetitive task.

But building tests from scratch still falls on your laboratory as part of ongoing maintenance. Unlike analyzer daily or preventative maintenance, you’re unlikely to crosstrain techs.

One of the biggest challenges is building a large database of tests all at once, either on installation (the vendor may help) or when switching to a different reference lab. An in-house test menu can be small compared to tests sent to your reference lab. Building such a database from scratch can be a nightmare for any lab already stretched to the limit with personnel cuts and a shortage of geeks.

There are scripting solutions that are free to download. With a bit of a learning curve and a little patience you can write a script to automate at least some, if not most, of building tests. These work by parroting your keystrokes, mouse clicks, and even mouse movements. Any keystroke combinations - such as Ctrl+C (Copy) and Ctrl+V (Paste) - can be simulated by easy to understand, English commands.

Scripts are written in Notepad or another text-based editor and run in real time by an interpreter program that does the work. A script is more or less a set of instructions for the scripting program itself to carry out. “Hit this key, wait two seconds, hit that key,” etc. It’s a lot less intimidating than writing an actual computer program.

The advantages to scripting outweigh the disadvantages of learning how. Dozens (if not hundreds) of hours of valuable tech time can be saved. Data entry is fast and accurate - a computer only does what it’s told. Scripts can be saved, revised, and used again and again.

Next, I’ll describe how a simple script can automate data entry.

NEXT: AutoIt Your LIS

posted by Scott Warner


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About this Blog

    Scott Warner, MLT(ASCP)
    Occupation: Laboratory Manager
    Setting: Critical Access Hospital
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