Using a LIMS to Remove Data Silos in Your Biobank and Lab
Apr 20

Using a LIMS to Remove Data Silos in Your Biobank and Lab

When it comes to working with a spreadsheet a common problem is making sure everyone is adding information to it in the same way. Another is sticking to just the one spreadsheet. Invariably what you end up with is everyone maintaining their own spreadsheets, each with their own rules, terminology and classifications. As a result, you have the same samples registered in several spreadsheets. And if you’re using an in-house built system, unless you’re constantly maintaining and updating it to meet new or changing requirements it can quickly become obsolete. Sometimes forcing you to revert back to using spreadsheets again.

So now you’re holding data all over the place making it difficult to find anything and impossible to control.

A modern laboratory information management system (LIMS) helps you remove these data silos in your Biobank and lab. Consolidating your data into one centralised system. As a result, you can reduce administrative overheads, improve quality, increase efficiency and protect sensitive information.

Centralising your Biobank and lab data

One of the key roles of a LIMS is to help centralise your Biobank and lab data into one system. Many advanced LIMS use SQL databases to store data which means they can handle very large volumes of data. Much more than a single spreadsheet.

Plus, multiple users can access the system at any one time and, critically, you control who can log in. Once logged in most laboratory information management systems will have a mechanism for managing user or role permissions. This determines what a user can do in the software.

Achiever Medical’s permissions functionality goes a step further by supporting different teams’ data and process requirements in a single system. Allowing you to roll out the software to multiple teams irrespective of their differences. Permissions are also defined at project and study levels enabling you to elevate access for selected users for specific data sets only. And they also control what data you can see and when – including personal identifiable data (PII).

A system is not going to magically transform your data

Consolidating and bringing your data into a centralised laboratory information management system can help improve your data quality and integrity. But it’s important to note you’ll have to do quite a bit of manual data cleansing and formatting in order to get any existing data into the system in the first place. It’s not a magical solution.

However, once you’ve got your data into a reasonable state for import then the LIMS will provide tools to help you manage it as you import it. It will also make sure that any new data you capture is formatted and consistent.

If you’re thinking about a system and don’t know where to start when it comes to data migration, our complimentary data import guide gives you some useful hints and advice. As well as a suggested plan of action.

Standardising your Biobank and lab data

Some modern Laboratory Information Management Systems and Biobanking software have predefined sample management and process workflows ‘out-of-the-box’. Plus, they come with standard functionality to capture key information such as samples and storage.  This means that they already have many data and process rules built in. In addition, there’s sometimes an upgrade path or opportunity to extend the software through configuration or modules.

Most modern laboratory information management systems also provide data formatting and standardisation tools to make sure you’re entering data consistently. Picklists are associated with your key data fields, so you choose from a list of predefined options. In Achiever Medical, for example, your super users are able to easily maintain and add to these picklist options as required.  In addition, you can define which fields are mandatory and at which point in the process. Making sure you’re capturing key information at the right time.

The same data formatting and selection rules apply whether you’re manually entering information or bulk importing data.

So unlike when you’re creating your own system or using spreadsheets the rules and methods to capture information consistently already exist and are ready for you to use. What’s more all these tools also help improve your overall data quality.

Integrating with instruments to bring in test results data

Many LIMS offer integration with instruments to import test results data. This can help reduce errors often caused by manual data entry. It also allows you to get a complete view of your sample data in one system.

It’s not just about importing data …

However, you don’t need to import data into a single system to get a complete view of information. There are other options available depending on your infrastructure, the technology supported by other applications and your requirements.

Achiever Medical offers a live view into other applications. This can be via screens in the system or through its interactive, graphical dashboards. Using the dashboards, for example, you can view and interact with data from multiple data sources. There are a number of connection options available.

A final thought about using a laboratory information system to remove data silos

Holding data in multiple systems and spreadsheets is all very well until you need to work with your data or rely on it for results. Your data could be duplicated across several spreadsheets making it difficult, if not impossible, to work out which record is correct. That’s assuming that you can even find the record in the first place!

A LIMS can help you bring together your lab and sample data into a centralised system. However, you’ll probably still need to do some work to clean and format your existing data in order to import it into your new LIMS system. But once it’s there then the software’s data management tools will help maintain its integrity and quality – and standardise new information as you add it.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to import all your data into a single system to get a consolidated view. There are often other tools providing live links to information so you can see data across multiple systems in a single view.

Related topics

  1. ‘Make Every Sample Matter’ – How LIMS helps increase the chances of using samples in research
  2. Data Management in Laboratory Information Management Systems
  3. Biobanking Software and LIMS Usability and User Interface
  4. Biobanking and LIMS Software User Experience
  5. Collaborative Laboratory Information Management Systems

About The Author

Sharon Williams has over 20 years’ experience of helping businesses successfully implement Sample Management Software and CRM systems. Appreciating that the software will deliver significant business change and improvements, Sharon guides businesses to help optimise these benefits. This includes advice on how to obtain user buy-in, evaluating and redefining existing business processes and how to gain a better understanding of their data to provide invaluable insight and inform business decisions.