The purchase of a new infectious disease identification system was approved during Greater Regional Medical Center’s (GRMC) monthly board of trustees meeting held Sept. 25.
The machine, a FilmArray 2.0, checks patient samples for a variety of respiratory viruses and stool infections among other diseases. It was purchased from biotechnology company BioFire Diagnostics for about $45,000, and is expected to be operational by mid-November.
“This is an instrument that the technology is very, very current,” said GRMC Director of Laboratory Barb Kenyon. “Five years ago, this wasn’t available ... this machine actually looks at the organism’s DNA. And three years ago, we got our first nucleic acid instrument, but this BioFire Film Array checks for so much more.”
The machine is capable of identifying common illnesses like the flu, whooping cough, RSV, pneumonia and food poisoning, but can also identify organisms responsible for causing rare infectious diseases and even some parasites.
“It checks for all sorts of different viruses,” said Kenyon. “Some that we haven’t even heard of. But they can make you sick, and it’s important we catch them fast.”
Kenyon said one of the machine’s best qualities is how quickly it can process samples.
“Well, you think maybe they (a patient) have food poisoning,” said Kenyon, “and you want to know quickly if that’s true because there’ll be other people involved. And in about an hour, you’ll know if this person is positive for the marker for the right organisms for that.”
Using the hospital’s previous technology, similar tests would have taken at least 24 hours, if not longer, according to Kenyon.
The machine will generally be used for ER patients with flu-like symptoms. Kenyon expects it to receive almost daily use during flu season, and frequent use during the summer months, too, for gastrointestinal problems.
Dr. Steven D. Reeves of GRMC also believes the new machine to be particularly worthwhile for the hospital.
“This is a big deal,” said Reeves. “This puts us on the cutting edge of being able to diagnose these infectious diseases. It has direct clinical applications.
“I was on hospital service this last week,” said Reeves, “and a patient came in and we did a stool film array (using the old testing method).
“Thirty-six hour wait,” said Reeves. “It changed the treatment on this patient. And these patients are in isolation, realistically, anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. That’s expense and a burden we don’t need.
“We’re faster, we’re more effective, we’re more accurate,” Reeves summarized.
And for these patients that must be placed into isolation while they wait for testing results to come back, Kenyon expects the machine’s timeliness to be a great convenience.
“It’s a pain for the patient, for the family — it’s a cost to put somebody in isolation. This way, you could probably hold them in the ER for an hour to get results, and then you can decide to put them in isolation.”
GRMC sent out 129 respiratory samples and 55 stool samples for testing using its previous method in 2016. And just through July of this year, the hospital has already sent out 304 respiratory samples and 95 stool samples, costing the hospital about $135,000 through July 27.
With the new machine, Kenyon says the same amount of testing would have cost the hospital about $79,000.
To add, the new machine means these tests will now be completed in-house, and in a fraction of the time they previously took.
“So that’s a real good thing for the care of the patient,” said Kenyon. “The doctors are real excited about this. It really gives us a lot of information in a short amount of time.”