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New lab technology at USA Health can rapidly identify pathogens for improved patient outcomes

USA Health is the first and only healthcare system on the Gulf Coast with the technology to identify organisms that cause diseases – more commonly known as pathogens – in as little as 40 seconds.

Published Jun 14th, 2019

By Lindsay Hughes
lahughes@health.southalabama.edu

USA Health is the first and only healthcare system on the Gulf Coast with the technology to identify organisms that cause diseases – more commonly known as pathogens – in as little as 40 seconds. Advances in microbiology translate to improved patient outcomes, as physicians can now implement proper antibiotics therapies, among others, more quickly and effectively.

A new microbiology system at USA Health University Hospital – the BD BACTEC blood culture system, BD Phoenix automated identification and susceptibility test system and BD Bruker MALDI biotyper – are much more sensitive and provide rapid and highly accurate test results.

After culturing and isolating bacteria and fungi from patient specimens, the organisms are identified and tested to determine which drugs will inhibit or stop their growth. In the past, patients and physicians had to wait up to a week to identity organisms that caused infections in patients.

“This is personalized microbiology,” said James Elliot Carter Jr., M.D., director of clinical laboratories and a pathologist with USA Health. “Imagine what that means for patient care. Instead of wasting high-powered antibiotics that may not do any good and increase antibiotic resistance, the patient can now be started on the right antimicrobials or antifungals immediately.”

Carter, who also serves as a professor of pathology at the USA Health College of Medicine, said rapid pathogen identification saves money for patients and providers. “Patients can be more quickly discharged if they don’t need to be here,” he said. “They aren’t sitting in the hospital for three days being treated for meningitis that they don’t have. It makes a huge difference in patient turnaround.”

Carter said the new lab equipment will be able to help patients and physicians outside USA’s health system. Laboratories previously had to send hard-to-identify organisms to the Alabama Department of Health in Montgomery for identification. Now labs can send those cases to USA Health, he said.

The MALDI biotyper acts as a “fingerprinting” system to identify bacteria, yeast and fungi. “Before the MALDI, we were identifying organisms by biochemicals,” explained Teresa Barnett, medical technologist supervisor with USA Health. “We had several kits that took anywhere from three to five days to identify some of these organisms.”

In contrast, the MALDI identifies organisms by the unique spectrum of the major proteins and peptides that constitute their makeup. “The MALDI takes a fingerprint, so it analyzes the peaks and valleys of the ion protein makeup and then compares it to a library in the software,” Barnett said.

The lab uses the BACTEC blood culture system to detect early positive blood cultures. It uses an automatic, vial-activated workflow that helps reduce hands-on time.

“This instrument is much more sensitive than what we used in the past,” Barnett said. “Also, it uses bottles that are lighter in weight and requires a smaller volume of blood, which makes it easier for our phlebotomists to get adequate samples from our patients, especially pediatric patients.”

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