Here at Counsyl, we process a lot of blood and saliva samples every day, and as we grow, this number is only going to increase. Most of our laboratory processing is mechanized and automated, but the first stage of sample intake and unpackaging, known as accessioning, is by nature a manual process.
Most of the samples we receive already have information stored in our system, because they’ve been ordered electronically by a patient or clinic. But even today, over 30% of requisitions are made using paper forms — some clinics prefer or require a paper workflow. Right now, our Accessioning team hands over the forms they receive to the Data Entry team, who type the data into our system manually. As Counsyl grows, we’ll need to handle this all as efficiently as possible.
To that end, we’re beginning to move towards a digitized setup. The first part of this project, newly introduced, is a workflow for scanning these paper requisition forms.
How It’s Used
The Accessioning team has now been equipped with a fleet of four document scanners. When they go through their standard workflow for a sample with a paper requsition, a new “Scan” button greets them with the option to scan paper requisitions and other documents, uploading them to our server, right from the webpage. These images are stored on our servers, and are linked to the sample in the database, so the Data Entry team can access them.
And when the Data Entry team uses their interface to digitize a form, rather than looking at a paper copy, they can now view the scanned images right on the page. The image viewer supports zooming and rotation, and remains visible while they scroll through the form.
How it Works
Every once in a while in software development, you’ll find a challenge for which the existing tools are insufficient, and you have to get a bit creative. In the case of this project, we had a new feature (scanning) which had to be built flexibly on top of an established workflow (web-based data entry).
Fortunately, there is a good way to interface with scanners from software: Mac OS X’s
ICScannerDevice classes. (For more info on
ICScannerDevice, you’ll have to see
/System/Library/Frameworks/ImageCaptureCore.framework/Headers/ICScannerDevice.h, since it’s mysteriously absent from
developer.apple.com. But don’t worry, it’s not a private API!) Combining these APIs, we were able to make a simple Mac app, dubbed ScanStream, that mediates between the USB scanners and the web browser.
FormData class (another fairly new web technology) to upload the files to Counsyl servers.
Here’s a slightly more detailed diagram of the architecture, showing more specifics about the functionality we included to make it easy to integrate with our existing workflow:
Our accessioning web interface determines ScanStream’s status by sending a request to
localhost:8080/ping, and requests a scan with
localhost:8080/scan. Since we need to scan multiple files at once, the initial HTTP response from
/scan includes a list of temporary codes that can be used to load the actual file data individually from
FormData), and records their IDs in a hidden field on the form, so they can follow along during form validation, without actually being “attached” until the form is successfully saved.
With just a little creative hackery, we’ve been able to implement a fully functional and extensible document scanning workflow. For Counsyl, this means we can finally store all documentation electronically — a huge win for us in terms of both efficiency and patient information tracking. We can now process documents more quickly, and the door has been opened to further automation as we continue to scale.
By the way, ScanStream is open-source — check it out on GitHub!
Jacob Bandes-Storch is a software engineering intern at Counsyl and a rising senior at Harvey Mudd College, majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics. Lately he doesn’t have any free time, but in it he grades & tutors computer science classes, hacks on apps and a few open-source projects, and plays the piano.
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