Many people start looking for a solution after they’ve just encountered a problem. And it’s the same with a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). Often the question ‘Do we need a LIMS?’ comes as a result of something chaotic or unfortunate happening in the lab. It might be because of a stressful audit inspection that’s taken place or is looming, costly data errors in results, being overwhelmed with paperwork or just fed up with the time it takes to complete processes in the lab.
It may surprise you to hear but a LIMS isn’t always the answer. In some instances, the cost of the issue doesn’t justify the investment in a LIMS. But in the case of some regulations where the consequence of non-compliance is a potential jail term then the investment in a LIMS to help you comply could definitely be seen as money well spent.
If you’re currently thinking about whether your lab needs a LIMS, don’t wait for the potential consequences of not having one to happen. Here are 5 signs that may help you decide if a LIMS is right for your lab.
When you don’t need a LIMS
Not every laboratory would benefit from a LIMS. Some can manage very well with a spreadsheet, a database created in-house or simple sample tracking software.
This is especially true for those labs that are handling very small numbers of samples and only a couple of people need access to the data. It’s equally the case for labs where sample turnaround time is incredibly quick and little, if any data, is required to be kept.
In these circumstances, a LIMS would deliver very little, if any, return on investment.
When you do need a LIMS
A LIMS comes into its own when:
- you’re handling a large volume of samples,
- you’re working to compliance regulations,
- you have a lot of data you need to manage,
- your data needs to be securely shared with collaborators,
- you have very complex processes that you need to track.
Here are some of the tell-tale signs that mean you should probably start thinking about a LIMS.
1. Spending money on samples you probably already have – somewhere …
When you’re handling thousands of samples it can be difficult to keep track of them in spreadsheets. And it’s highly likely that you won’t just have one spreadsheet. You may have tens or even hundreds. If you’re looking for samples to work with or provide to collaborators finding them can be like looking for a needle in haystack. It’s probably quicker for you to just buy or obtain some new ones.
That’s not a such a big deal is it? Well not if you have plenty of money and storage space. What happens if you do already have those samples in store? Will they ever get used if no one can be bothered looking for them? And now you’re paying twice – for the ones you’re holding in storage and the new ones you’ve just bought.
Also, what would the donor think about their generously given samples not being used for their intended purpose?
2. You think everyone is handling samples in the same way … sort of
Consistency is essential when it comes to reproducibility of results and overall quality. You can’t watch what everyone is doing every day. To start with you don’t have the time and you’re at risk of demotivating your team who will think you don’t trust them.
Also, each team may have a slightly different way of working or need to record additional data.
Knowing your protocols and procedures have been followed can be difficult without a tracking system. This is where a LIMS can help.
A LIMS can guide you through your lab workflows. Prompting you to complete next steps and automatically completing data as you go. It can prevent you from progressing to the next step until information has been entered or approval gained. What’s more, a LIMS like Achiever Medical audits key steps as you complete them, so you know exactly where you’re up to.
3. Everyone has to be in the lab during an audit – just in case …
A simple question from an auditor of ‘what’s in that box?’ might bring you out in a cold sweat if Dave, who the freezer belongs to, isn’t lurking around the corner. But what if Dave’s on holiday the week of the audit? You shouldn’t have to have everyone ‘on call’ during an audit. And you don’t need to if you have a lab information system that can give you this information. And probably quicker than Dave!
You can use a barcode scanner to scan a sample or box into the LIMS that will then return the details of its contents – immediately.
What’s more, a LIMS like Achiever Medical gives you a complete chain of custody for the sample as well as an audit trail. This tells you exactly where the sample came from and what’s happened to it so far.
All this provides you with that important evidence you need for compliance. And it’s available to all authorised users – not just in someone’s head.
4. You’re worried about the accuracy of the reports you create for stakeholders
Data can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. It’s something that can really make a difference to how you work and your decision making. Data management can be expensive.
You may think if you’re using spreadsheets that your data management is quite a cheap activity. But you’re possibly not factoring in the time is takes someone to find something, or the time it takes you to pull a report together.
And all this assumes that the data you’re looking at is the most recent and everyone’s been updating the spreadsheet in the same way. Also, there’s no audit trail in a spreadsheet – and probably very few rules on how to update the data in there.
You want to have confidence in the data you’re presenting to your stakeholders – be these funders, patients or the board. Inaccurate data can lead to incorrect assumptions and potentially even impact outcomes. A key role of a LIMS is data management. A LIMS gives you the tools to help you standardise and format your data. Making sure everyone is capturing it consistently, so it’s easier for you to find, use and query.
A LIMS, like Achiever Medical also has integrated, real-time dashboards. At the click of a button you have reports in a range of different formats including graphs. What’s more, you can drill into the individual records to access the underlying data. You can create new analytics in minutes. All this helps save you time and you can even provide your stakeholders with access to the view the reports themselves so they can run anytime.
5. You’re emailing spreadsheets around to share data
The thought of people emailing spreadsheets containing highly personal, sensitive data sends shivers down the spine of compliance and data security officers everywhere. A data breach can have serious consequences – and not all data breaches are caused by external hackers.
Email is not secure. And even if you do add a password to protect the data sheet it’s highly likely the recipient will print it out or store it on their machine or device which may not be secure.
A LIMS enables you to securely share data between as many people as needed. Without the data ever needing to leave the system. A LIMS like Achiever Medical also enables you to securely share selected data with external collaborators. What’s more, personal identifiable data (PII) is encrypted ‘at rest’ in the database meaning only those with express permissions to access it can see it.
A final thought about when your lab needs a laboratory information management system
There are many reasons why labs choose to implement a LIMS. These include everything from managing large sample and data volumes to helping them meet regulatory compliance.
Not every lab needs a LIMS though to run efficiently. This is especially true for smaller labs dealing with small volumes of data where only a couple of people need access.
When considering a LIMS you want to know that it’s going to deliver tangible benefits like helping your lab run more efficiently and make the most of your resources. But don’t just think about a LIMS value in terms of money and time savings. Also, consider the impact that inaccurate data, compliance issues or data security problems could have on your lab, business as well as you personally. These can be very damaging – not just to your reputation – and have potentially far reaching consequences.