Everyone loves a spreadsheet. It’s easy to add data in to as well as update. In fact, they work acceptably well – up to a point. But when they do fail the impact can be catastrophic with data being truncated, inaccurate or not even being saved. What’s worse is that you might not notice this until weeks later. Wouldn’t it be great if you could do something before you reach that point? Here’s 5 signs that it might be time to ditch the spreadsheets and invest in a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) or sample management system.
1. The number of samples you’re processing is increasing
Manually entering data in a spreadsheet for tens of samples is very different to adding data for thousands, or even tens of thousands, of samples. It’s not just the quality of your data that starts to suffer as the numbers increase. It’s also questionable – as well as impossible to track – whether you’re actually capturing all your samples. Also, spreadsheets have a limit – after which it’s anyone guess as to whether your data is being saved or truncated.
When you start managing and processing samples at scale software such as a LIMS become a necessity. A LIMS can save you valuable time when entering data by allowing you to bulk import data as well as linking to barcode readers to automatically scan samples and bringing in data from instruments. As a result, it significantly improves your data quality and integrity by reducing manual data transcript errors.
2. You’ve no idea which spreadsheet – or sample row – is the most recent
If you’re recording the same sample in multiple spreadsheets it can be difficult to identify which record is the most recent. Or even if you’re looking at the right sample record. This is especially problematic if you assign all slides and aliquots the same identifier as the original sample.
There are many reasons why you end up with different spreadsheets. It could be because different teams are using their own systems. Or maybe you’re working with your own version of the main spreadsheet where you record additional information that you need but others don’t.
When you’re working with your samples or publishing them for researchers to use, you need to be confident that the data you’re holding is accurate. The impact of incorrect information on any outcomes or results obtained from that sample can be significant.
Unlike a spreadsheet a sample record exists once in a LIMS. You can control who has access to it. Also, you can hold additional data against it which also includes each sample having a complete chain of custody and audit trail. This gives you complete traceability of the sample.
3. You struggle to share your data with collaborators and researchers
Collaboration is an integral part of working in a lab. This includes working across labs and multi-disciplines as well as collaborating with partners and 3rd parties. Successful collaboration requires sharing. Sharing of resources and, crucially, information. But you probably only want to share a subset of your data. This might mean creating a cut-down copy of your spreadsheet – which requires more manual data manipulation and time. What’s more, emailing spreadsheets is not the most secure way to share data.
A LIMS like Achiever Medical can help you securely share your data with internal and external collaborators. Plus, you’re in control of what information and data sets they have access to as well as what they can do with that data.
4. It’s quicker, cheaper and easier to get new samples than find existing ones
Locating samples that match your required search criteria across multiple spreadsheets can be like finding a needle in a haystack. What’s more, you may need to perform the search multiple times to account for the variations in spelling and categorisation. All this can add up to valuable time lost.
Unlike a spreadsheet a LIMS formats and standardises data as you as enter it. As a result, data is entered consistently making it quicker and easier for you to find and locate your samples. Plus, it improves the quality and accuracy of your data.
5. You start preparing your data for an audit inspection weeks’ in advance
No-one enjoys an inspection. There’s always some preparation that you need to do. Often the night before! But if you have to start weeks in advance collecting data from different people to collate into one report or spreadsheet then this is where a LIMS can help.
A LIMS provides a centralised, consolidated view of lab data. Plus, a LIMS such as Achiever Medical automatically audits every sample event and activity. Providing you with full visibility of where a sample came from, where it is now and what’s happened to it. You can also demonstrate evidence of compliance using the system’s interactive, real-time dashboards and data visualisation tools.
A final thought on ditching spreadsheets for a LIMS
Spreadsheets are incredibly useful for labs working in small, contained teams that are handling small volumes of samples. Nothing’s as easy as adding data into a spreadsheet. No one ever starts out thinking they’re going to need to create lots of them. But they can creep up on you and before you know it you’ve got tens of them.
However, you can start to struggle with them as you start to scale-up, your processes become more complex or you need to collaborate and share information. This is where a LIMS or sample management system starts to make a difference. It’s also much easier to find and work with your data when you’re entering it consistently into a LIMS rather than a series of unordered spreadsheets.