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Monday, September 27, 2021 - Roper St. Francis Healthcare acquires new technology to dramatically enhance COVID-19 testing capabilities

The longest any Roper St. Francis Healthcare patient will have to wait for a COVID-19 test result will be 24 hours starting today.

That’s because the Lowcountry’s largest healthcare system for adults has acquired the Roche Cobas 6800, a testing instrument that will nearly quadruple the number of COVID tests the system can run daily.

“We’re constantly looking to acquire better technology to provide better service to our patients,” said Vanessa Shamrock, director of laboratory services. “This is one more piece of our testing portfolio that will enable us to continue serving our community.”

Roper St. Francis Healthcare uses multiple types of COVID-19 tests on patients, depending on how quickly they need to be diagnosed. For example, a patient in distress who comes to the Emergency Department is tested with a rapid 20-minute test to ensure timely treatment.

RSFH has been expanding its COVID-19 testing equipment since the pandemic began in March 2020, and this latest purchase is significant because of the volume of tests the machine can process – a total of 1,100 in 24 hours. RSFH has been on a waiting list to buy the 6800 for one year because of the competition worldwide.

Shamrock credits the system’s ability to quickly respond to the testing needs created by the pandemic in part to the Medical Society of South Carolina. The funding for the machine is being provided by the Medical Society of South Carolina, one of two joint venture partners in Roper St. Francis Healthcare.

“We would not have had such a successful response had we not been fortunate to have the Medical Society of South Carolina’s support for this,” she said.

Charlie Rivers, chief executive officer of the Medical Society of South Carolina, said the healthcare system has faced tremendous pressure in dealing with the challenges related to COVID-19, and chief among those has been timely and efficient COVID testing.

“This investment will enhance Roper St. Francis Healthcare’s delivery of first-class healthcare to our community as the Medical Society of South Carolina continues its more than 230-year legacy of supporting caregivers,” he said.

The 6800 machine is housed at Roper St. Francis Physicians Partners laboratory. The location of the 6800 in that site also will enhance the system’s efficiency. Previously, all COVID-19 specimens collected in non-hospital locations would have to be registered and processed by the lab before being transported again to alternate locations for testing. Now, any specimen collected from a remote site can be processed as soon as it arrives, which is a huge benefit from a work flow perspective, Shamrock said.

The 6800’s ability to process a bigger number of tests faster will help save RSFH money that would’ve been spent on outsourcing the processing of other COVID-19 tests. Additionally, it allows lab staff to begin uploading specimens to the machine even while it’s processing a batch, which will help improve lab efficiency.

“The team loves the instrument,” Shamrock said.

RSFH has taken a multi-vendor approach for COVID testing because there hasn’t been a single vendor who could supply all the system needed relative to COVID testing during the pandemic, Shamrock said.

A Cepheid machine that could process rapid tests was acquired in April, and then in May, the BD Max was installed. That instrument has been the system’s go-to workhorse for processing COVID tests, which at its peak could run 272 tests in a 24-hour period.  From there, the system implemented Sofia testing equipment then developed a relationship with Precision Genetics to process additional COVID-19 tests. The Roche LIAT was added to the Express Cares last October for rapid testing and LIAT units were also added to the hospitals in July to further expand our rapid testing capabilities.

“We’ve been fortunate to be able secure the various methods for testing,” Shamrock said.

Now as the healthcare system approaches flu season, best practice recommendations are to run tests for other respiratory viruses such as flu as well as COVID-19. All of the system’s testing platforms, including the 6800, will be able to do that, she said.

“We’re constantly making improvements in what we do,” she said.

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