The Importance of Sample Request Approval and Fulfilment Processes in Biobanks
May 11

The Importance of Sample Request Approval and Fulfilment Processes in Biobanks

As a Biobank having high quality samples is essential for your reputation and success. You’ve probably defined protocols and standard operating procedures (SOPs) that you follow when storing and processing samples. Likewise, you may use spreadsheets or dedicated systems to make sure your sample data is as complete and accurate as possible.

But that’s just the beginning. You also need to make sure your samples are used. So, you need to publicise the samples that you want to make available to researchers. And once researchers have chosen the samples they need and you’ve approved them, you then have to release and send them – promptly and securely.

So, how geared up is your Biobank to manage and fulfil any incoming sample requests?

Knowing how many tissue sample requests you’re receiving

Do you know how many requests you receive each week?

In order to answer this question you need to have a mechanism for recording all your incoming requests. It can be time consuming if you’re receiving requests via email that you then type into a spreadsheet. Emails could arrive in any format – taking time and effort just to decipher what’s required. Spreadsheets can help to capture basic data. But if you’re rekeying data you’re not only using up valuable time you might also inadvertently be introducing errors.

Plus, if an email is going to a general email address there’s a danger that it might get missed altogether. Especially if you don’t have a consistent mechanism for handling incoming emails. Or the person monitoring them is out of the office.

Biobanking software can significantly improve the way you handle incoming requests. Achiever Medical, for example, provides an online request portal. Approved researchers can search your samples available for loan and request them. The system automatically allocates a request number that can be used to track the progress of the request. What’s more an email confirmation is sent to the requester and an email notification sent to the nominated Biobank team members. The request is also displayed on the home page in the software for the relevant Biobank team members to access.

Dealing with tissue requests promptly

What exactly does ‘dealing with requests promptly’ mean?

You’re running a service. It’s important that you and researchers understand the terms of that service. If you put an order into an online shop, you’d expect to have some indication of when your order is likely to arrive. It should be no different with tissue requests.

You need to set out very clearly – and visibly – your service delivery timescales to researchers when they’re requesting samples.  This might include:

  • Your initial response times
  • How often your tissue approval committee meets to approve any requests
  • Approval/rejection response times

Plus, you may want to allow researchers to indicate their timescales for delivery of any tissues. This will help you assess quickly whether you can meet their needs. Similarly, you may want researchers to be able to make priority requests whose approval you could expedite under very tight controls.

Setting expectations

It’s much better to be honest about what you can deliver when and let researchers know sooner rather than later if you can’t meet their need. It’s very often communication – or more precisely – lack of communication that causes problems. Most people worry about delivering bad news. But you’ll do more damage by not telling someone that you can’t meet their request than by not being able to fulfil the request.

If you let someone know you can’t meet their current request as soon as possible then they can make alternative arrangements. And you can do it in such a way that you can let them know what you can offer for future requests.

Biobanking systems, like Achiever Medical, help make sure you’re dealing with any sample requests promptly and in line with any agreed service level agreements (SLAs). Achiever Medical enables you to define alerts if the request has not been reviewed, approved or shipped within a predefined period. You can use these alerts to nudge the relevant team members or even escalate non-actioned requests to managers. In addition, you can use its real-time dashboards to show outstanding requests and performance in line with response times.

Streamlining the approvals process

Managing the approvals process can be a minefield. Knowing who has to sign off which samples, what transfer agreements and other contracts need to be in place before you can approve samples can be tricky to control. You want to make the approvals process secure yet efficient. You could end up losing opportunities if it takes you months to approve sample requests.

Think carefully about how you can standardise your approvals process and try to look at it from a researcher’s perspective. Yes, it’s right that you should protect your Biobank, but it can’t be at the expensive of valuable samples not being used. That’s not helping anyone and is definitely not in the interest of the sample donors who want their samples to be used for the benefit of all.

Achiever Medical enables you to manage the approval process by allowing you to grant approval permissions to selected project team members.  You can attach material transfer agreement documentation with each request. Plus, there’s a complete audit trail.

In addition, Achiever Medical Biobanking software enables you to track dispatches. This includes capturing details of the courier, recording when the shipment was received and tracking any queries or issues.

Some ideas for improving your Biobank’s sample request approval and fulfilment processes

You put a lot of effort into following SOPs when you’re managing, processing and storing your samples. You want to make sure you’re offering high quality samples to researchers.

But this is just one part of the story. It’s equally as important to make sure that you fulfil all sample requests efficiently. Even if you don’t have the samples a researcher needs.

Don’t know where to start. Here are some questions to help formulate ideas on how you can make sure your request and fulfilment processes don’t cost your Biobank its opportunities or reputation.

  • Request receipt process – How do you receive requests? Where do they come from? What do you do when a request comes in? Does everyone do the same thing? How many requests do you receive each week? If you can’t find the answer to these, then you may want to map out your request process.
  • Review and approvals process – How long on average does it take to review a request? What communication is happening with researchers in the meantime? If it’s taking you a long time to review requests – why and what are the obstacles?
  • Service levels – Are you meeting researchers’ expectations? Do you even know what these are? You need to make sure researchers have a clear understanding of the service you’re offering including your process, and your response and delivery timescales. This will help align expectations and allow you to measure performance.
  • Communication channels – What are your communication channels? Are you recording all communication with researchers? Communication is essential – especially if you can’t fulfil a request – the sooner you tell them the better.


Discover how Achiever Medical can help your Biobank improve its sample request process

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.