Inside UCHealth’s clinical laboratories are unsung heroes, behind-the-scenes health care workers who run the tests to tell whether someone has COVID-19 or not, providing accurate results – as quickly as possible – for all.
“Health care is a team sport, and sometimes you see team members who at the front line who are with patients, who are in ambulances and in operating rooms but it takes an entire team to deliver health care,’’ said Dr. Richard Zane, chief innovation officer at UCHealth and chair of the department of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
“Laboratorians and laboratory technicians and pathologists are integral in the fight of COVID-19. You don’t see them on TV and you don’t see them on the news, but they are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as part of the force that is fighting COVID-19,’’ Zane said.
With thousands of tests for COVID-19 conducted daily across UCHealth, those in the laboratory have worked non-stop. In the middle of the worst pandemic in a century, the team at UCHealth became one of the first hospital systems in the country, and the first in the Rocky Mountain region, to obtain and start using a new, highly-accurate COVID-19 testing technology called the “Amplitude Solution.”
For patients, the robotic COVID-19 testing technology means faster results.
For those lab techs at the molecular diagnostics lab at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus the goal is to analyze and generate COVID-19 test results as fast as possible for patients and medical providers.
“It’s a game changer in how many tests we can run a day,” said Rob Welch, director and system lead for laboratory services at UCHealth.
Especially as cases of COVID-19 have surged to record-setting levels this fall, the need for fast, accurate COVID-19 results has only grown more urgent.
Michael Dobler, a lab supervisor, says providing more rapid test results provides for a more optimal patient experience.
“A lot of this is peace of mind. If you’re sick, it’ll give you results,” Dobler said. “If you are sick during flu season, it could be a simple cold virus and obviously it could be the coronavirus…If you have some sort of exposure, you know that you can get results quickly, and in that time, you can isolate from grandparents or kids who we don’t want to expose.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, lab managers at UCHealth have doubled the number of people working in the facility and have created new late-evening and overnight shifts as they’ve raced to develop and run a highly accurate 24/7 testing operation.
The UCH lab is already a central testing facility for UCHealth’s 12 hospitals, sample collection centers and emergency departments, along with other testing sites in Wyoming. The new Amplitude Solution allows lab workers to process additional COVID-19 tests for other testing sites throughout the Denver area and elsewhere in Colorado. Thermo Fisher Scientific created the Amplitude Solution.
“Everybody is coming together,” Dobler said. “There’s a big community service (in giving people) precise results that they know that they can depend on.”
Welch said it’s especially helpful that Amplitude Solution will help speed up testing turnaround times. Starting in 2021, the federal government will reward hospitals for producing results for COVID-19 tests in 48 hours or less. UCHealth often achieves that quick response time now, but the faster medical providers and others can receive test results, the better. Once the system is operating fully, Welch said, the lab may get close to same-day results on all testing.
“Getting results back quickly is critical to treatment and isolation efforts,” Welch said.
The Amplitude Solution processes the most accurate type of COVID-19 tests, which are known as PCR or polymerase chain reaction tests. These are the kinds of tests for which people get nasopharyngeal swabs. They are much more accurate than rapid response antigen tests. For information on getting COVID-19 testing through UCHealth, click here.
“PCR is the gold standard for COVID-19 testing,” Zane said. “There are a lot of different kinds of testing. There’s rapid antigen testing. There’s rapid RNA testing, and then there’s PCR. And the investment that UCHealth has made has been in automating the gold standard. This was an important investment for the community in the gold standard of testing.”
“PCR testing is more accurate. It’s more sensitive. It’s more specific. And, it gives you an answer (or test result) that can be relied upon more than any other type of testing,” Zane said.
The Amplitude Solution arrived at University of Colorado Hospital in October, and the first results were released on Nov. 16.
“We first learned about the Amplitude in late August. To deliver a project of this scope in under three months was truly remarkable,’’ Welch said. “We would not have been successful without the support of our executive team, finance managers, supply chain directors, design, construction, IT, and Epic team, and of course, our pathologists and laboratory managers.
“Getting here was truly a team effort and something the whole organization should be proud of accomplishing.”
Once the workers scale up to full capacity, UCHealth will be able to greatly expand its testing capacity for both health care workers and the public.
“This has been a Herculean, 24-hour-a-day, 7-day a week operation from the lab specialists and the molecular technicians,” Zane said. “It’s really been an amazing community effort to get this machine up and ready to deliver for our patients.’’