Clinical Chemistry Analyzers Buying Guide
If you are a looking to purchase a routine clinical chemistry analyzer for your laboratory, or to replace an existing instrument, this guide provides important information to help you make the right decision.
Learn about the different types of technology, laboratory integration, point-of-care analyzers and other important considerations.
Clinical chemistry analyzers for routine use perform tests on a range of sample types to determine concentrations of specific analytes, as well as assaying therapeutic drugs. The type of analyzer required by individual laboratories will depend on testing requirements and throughput capabilities.
This buying guide aims to provide you with the most up to date information to consider when looking to purchase or update your clinical chemistry analyzer.
Clinical Chemistry Technology
Advances in automation have led to a new generation of clinical chemistry analyzers, with advanced software and hardware solutions. These analyzers can offer laboratories fast, reportable, cost-effective and accurate results.
Some companies offer dedicated systems for use only with specific kits; these are known as closed systems. Others offer open systems, which can be used with a number of different assays, and so require careful calibration and validation of parameters by the user. Open and closed systems can also be referred to when looking at automation systems. For more information on automation, please see our Clinical Laboratory Automation Buying Guide.
Modern clinical chemistry analyzers can usually:
- Test for a variety of specific analytes such as proteins, electrolytes and enzymes, as well as general chemistries.
- Use a number of different measurement technologies:
- Absorbance photometry
- Ion selective potentiometry
- Latex agglutination
- Homogenous EIA (Enzyme Immunoassay)
- Analyze a range of sample types:
- Cerebrospinal fluid
Clinical applications of these analyzers include the monitoring of disease states such as anemia, diabetes, cardiac markers, drugs of abuse, metabolic functions, hepatic function, and therapeutic drug monitoring.
It would not be unreasonable to expect a large, modern, automated chemistry analyzer to offer the following technical specifications:
- Random access capabilities - the ability to access an element at an arbitrary position in a sequence in equal time, independent of sequence size.
- Qualitative checks for hemolysis, lipemia and icterus.
- Liquid level sensing, crash protection, clot/clog detection, and short sample detection.
- Auto dilution and automatic reflex/repeat testing.
- STAT functions – either simultaneous sampling, or ability to interrupt a sample run.
- Sophisticated software that can be connected to LIS/LIMS.
- Bi-directional interface.
Clinical chemistry analyzers can generally be separated into analyzers using standard clinical chemistry and analyzers employing integrated clinical chemistry analysis.
Clinical Chemistry Analyzers
The most common analytical method used for clinical chemistry analysis is photometry, when the sample is mixed with a reagent to produce a color reaction. Analyte concentration is measured with a photometer (light absorbed is directly correlated to the analyte concentration).
The second most common test method in analytical chemistry is ion selective electrode (ISE) measurement. The ISE module measures ions such as Li+, Cl-, Na+ and K+. Analyzers may utilize one or both of these analytical methods, analyzers often come with an optional ISE module. The correct choice for your laboratory will depend on the test requirements.
Figure 2. RX Imola, Randox Laboratories, is capable of performing 400 photometric tests and 240 ISE tests per hour.
Integrated Clinical Chemistry Analyzers
Integrated analyzers combine photometric testing with immunoassay capabilities. Immunoassays involve the biochemical measurement of macromolecule concentration in a solution via the use of an antibody or immunoglobulin. Examples of immunoassay tests include ferritin, IgE and parathyroid hormone. Integrated systems improve productivity and efficiency in laboratories that need to carry out both types of method analysis. Combining the methods on integrated analyzers also minimizes manual steps and processing.
Total Laboratory Automation
Modern clinical chemistry analyzers are highly automated to ensure minimal manual processes, improved safety and reduced risk of cross-contamination.
Some of the chemistry analyzers on the market are designed for stand-alone use, either bench top or floor standing. These analyzers are suitable for low and medium throughput laboratories. The newest generation analyzers have been designed either for modular configuration or for total laboratory automation. These instruments are capable of meeting the demands of medium- and high-throughput laboratories, and offer a high level of flexibility in terms of design and testing capability.
Figure 4. Dimension Vista® 1500 Intelligent Lab System, Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, can be configured for improved efficiency of workflow.
Different point-of-care analyzers offer different test panels; you will need to assess your needs and operator requirements when viewing the options. The Abbott i-STAT is a hospital favorite and offers a broad menu of cardiac markers, blood gases, chemistries and electrolytes, lactate, as well as coagulation and hematology. The analyzer is a microprocessor-controlled, electromechanical instrument which utilizes single-use cartridges to perform tests.
Figure 5. Abbott i-STAT® 1, Abbott Diagnostics
If specific analyte testing is required there are a variety of options on the market. Horiba offers a lightweight analyzer that uses immunoturbidimetry technology to offer C-reactive protein (CRP) and hematology parameters.
Figure 6. Microsemi CRP Analyzer, Horiba Medical
There are also a variety of blood gas analyzers available for purchase that can be used either at the point-of-care, or in laboratories with small sample throughput.
To view our directory of point-of-care analyzers, please click here.
Factors to Consider
Anyone looking to purchase an analyzer may find it useful to ask the following questions:
- Does it represent value for money?
- Is it fit for purpose?
- What are the ‘whole life’ costs?
- What are the service costs?
- Is it flexible and easy to operate?
- Is the product of high quality?
Manufacturers usually offer a number of customizable options and functions depending on the needs of each individual laboratory. For example, throughput of photometric or ISE tests per hour, and the number of tests and assay types available. A variety of analyzers are available to suit the smallest point-of-care clinic, or the most demanding high-throughput clinical laboratory.
Factors to Consider when Choosing your Analyzer
Size and type of laboratory
What are the throughput capabilities of the analyzer/ system? Will it be high enough to allow the laboratory to meet its expected turnaround times? Is there a STAT mode for urgent samples?
A more expensive analyzer may prove to be more cost effective in the long term if, for example, the reagents are cheaper and the turnaround times are faster.
Consider the tests required e.g. a small cardiac clinic will require a very different set of tests to a large, multi-disciplinary, clinical laboratory.
Most modern medium to high-throughput chemistry analyzers are fully automated. Many also have the option to be connected to a track. A small laboratory might be best served by a stand-alone, bench-top analyzer, whereas a high-throughput hospital lab may benefit from a total automation solution.
It is always wise to consider how the laboratory may expand over the coming years. What are the projections for sample numbers over the life of the analyzer? Which additional tests will the laboratory offer in a few years time? Are there plans for future automation or development of a multi-disciplinary laboratory? It may be worth investing in an analyzer or system that already has the capabilities that you will require in the future.
The purchase of a new analyzer is often a good time to assess LEAN methodologies. LEAN principles can help to guide the choice of equipment and determine whether processes really would be optimized by total automation, or whether a re-working of existing procedures would suffice.
Read more about the LEAN process in our Clinical Laboratory Automation Buying Guide.
Integration into Current Lab Settings
- Consider the demands of the instrument
How many operators will it require; will it be a shared resource; and how will it integrate into your current workflow (is it stand-alone or fully integrated)? The various options to integrate fully automated systems, for higher throughput testing, can be discussed with the individual manufacturers.
- Complex technology often requires intensive training
Does the manufacturer offer a comprehensive training program and how will this information be shared with the laboratory team? Some manufacturers offer residential training programs for a limited number of people, who will then become the trainers for the rest of the user group. Others will hold training sessions at the laboratory itself and issue certificates to attendees on completion of a test. Training typically takes 3-5 days.
- Compatibility of software
Limitations resulting from the compatibility of software with external hardware are important to consider. Some systems include integrated software with features such as inbuilt protocols and the ability to select languages. Software should be validated to global standards. Interfacing options and LIMS compatibility are important considerations when choosing a new analyzer.
Other important considerations include the number of users, length of usage, flexibility, pre-analytical processing, ease-of-use, reliability, budget and customer support.
The Future of Clinical Chemistry Analyzers
Taking into consideration current and future trends is essential in maximizing the lifespan of any analyzer. As systems become more sophisticated, integration, convenience and application specificity are key.
New assays are constantly in development to improve the diagnostic capabilities of laboratories and ultimately improve patient care. The continuing emergence of new, clinically significant biomarkers, and technological advancements have a significant impact on such assay development.
Biochemistry systems will also become faster and more efficient as technology and software is developed and enhanced. Manufacturers strive to take into consideration customer feedback and requirements, and many are developing strategies for making analytical systems ever more user-friendly.
As laboratory workloads increase, and managers look toward total automation solutions, analyzers need to have either modular capabilities or the ability to be connected to a track. At the other extreme, point-of-care testing is very much in demand and technology is being developed to enable near-patient chemistry testing.
The purchase of a new analyzer requires considerable thought, planning and assessment of the laboratories or clinic’s needs and requirements. It is wise to identify these requirements before drawing up a shortlist of analyzers that have the potential to meet them. Purchasers should conduct a thorough comparison of analyzer capabilities and balance this with the all important issue of price before making a decision.
You can view our clinical chemistry product directory and product reviews here.
This buying guide is not inclusive of all clinical chemistry analyzers available on the market. Not all analyzers are available in all countries.
Clinical Diagnostics Editor
"This is an open system that allows use of different chemistry. You can use small volumes and that is excellent..."
Vladimir Mikan, Oblastní nemocnice Jičín ,CZ
"Good automation for sample storage and retrieval. Flexible and good service."
Jong Li, John Hopkins Medicine