Cheryl Mikulcik, Microbiology technical lead, shows off the PCR unit (bottom right corner) that is in use at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital.

Hospital gets new diagnostic equipment, eyes additional technology

Microbiology lab increases bacterial diagnostic capabilities, needs funding for redevelopment.

The microbiology lab at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital is benefitting from a new piece of diagnostic equipment, however, staff are hoping to build on their capabilities with more technology.

The lab recently got their hands on a piece of technology that utilizes Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) for diagnostic purposes.

In layman terms, the PCR separates DNA from sample bacteria in order to identify specific strains that will help doctors make real time diagnosis and treatment plans for patients.

“With microbiology, it’s all about getting things faster because patients who are sick and septic — having bacteria in their blood, which is the thing we worry about most — with those people, the time that we get them on the correct antibiotics is associated with them surviving and having better outcomes,” said Dr. Amanda Wilmer a medical microbiologist with Interior Health.

At a cost of $50,000, the PCR unit speeds up diagnosis of C. difficile, antibiotic resistant bacteria and other infectious diseases in a time frame that could be as short as half an hour as opposed to up to five days or more that it used to take to ship samples to Kelowna or Vancouver for testing.

“I think its essential to have it on site at a regional hospital like ours,” said Dr. Wilmer. “For things like C. difficile, influenza and MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) — we’re going to be able to diagnose them probably two to five days faster than our previous methods.”

Another advantage to the PCR is that it is extremely user friendly and can be operated by existing lab personnel who don’t require specialized training like those who operate ultrasound or MRI equipment.

But the lab, which is in dire need of more space and equipment, is turning it’s sights on another piece of the diagnostic puzzle with help from the East Kootenay Foundation for Health.

Similar in application as the PCR, the microbiology lab is hoping to add a MALDI/TOF — a matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization that uses time of flight technique to identify specific strains of bacteria.

“So with the MALDI/TOF, what we’re able to do is diagnose these people with bacteria in their blood within a couple minutes of the blood culture becoming positive versus our conventional techniques we’re using right now where it’s a day or two before we might know what that bug is and what susceptibilities to expect,” said Dr. Wilmer.

The MALDI/TOF carries a heftier price tag than the PCR at $250,000, but the EKFH is interested in fundraising and applying for grants to cover the cost.

While quickly diagnosing bacterial samples is obviously good for immediate patient care and treatment, the ability to turn around samples at a faster rate will allow the hospital to increase their capacity given that it serves regional communities.

“We’re having people be referred in here all the time from Invermere, Golden, all sorts of different areas,” Dr. Wilmer said, “so I think when we bring these people in here for diagnostics, it’s important to provide the lab support for those diagnostics so that we’re able to make a rapid diagnosis for those people and get them back into their communities.”

Wilmer added that much of the day-to-day equipment in the lab is also dated and that funding is required not just for the innovative technologies but the existing pieces of equipment that need replacing or updating.

The entire hospital is currently undergoing a facility review that will chart the future development of the building.

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