What is a LIMS?

LIMS stands for Laboratory Information Management System. A LIMS purpose is to help improve laboratory operations by managing laboratory data, streamlining workflows and improving data quality. It replaces paper-based and legacy systems and spreadsheets which are often time-consuming, inaccurate, not secure, inconsistent and lack any audit trail.

A LIMS pulls together all the information you generate in your laboratory into a standardised format so it’s easier for you to find, work with, securely share and analyse.What is a LIMS - Achiever Medical LIMS Process Overview

Why do I need a LIMS?

Acting as an extension of your lab team a LIMS supports you in running your lab more efficiently. It saves you time by reducing manual data entry, automating repetitive tasks, linking with other systems and giving you the information you need at your fingertips. By showing you what resources you’re using and how often it can help you make the most of any budgets and funding.

You can access and share data more easily and securely for greater collaboration. You can map your processes into a LIMS to instil good protocols, consistency, reproducibility as well as quality control. What’s more, it automatically audits each action for complete traceability helping provide evidence for regulatory compliance.

Some systems store clinical data enabling you to conduct more targeted and focused work.

Who uses a LIMS?

A LIMS is typically used by lab workers, researchers, biobank staff and lab support staff within a range of industries including biobanking, pharmaceutical, medical research, environmental research, manufacturing and testing labs.

Historically LIMS were seen as expensive systems costing millions and taking years to implement. As a result, they were often seen as something only large-scale companies could afford.

With the advent of web-based and cloud technologies this has changed. There are LIMS for labs of all sizes and budgets covering everything from a single-user, ‘out-of-the-box’, hosted solution through to a bespoke, on-premise system. Each LIMS offers different levels of functionality, customisation options and benefits. It could be the first step of your lab’s digital transformation.

Features and functionality you should expect in a LIMS

LIMS have evolved from simple sample tracking systems to comprehensive solutions processing sophisticated workflows, performing complex calculations, connecting systems and handling all aspects of lab data management. As a result, they have become the digital backbone of labs and integral to a lab’s performance.

It’s important to note that not all lab information management systems are the same. Features, workflows, reports, integrations and prices will all vary. There are solutions available for testing, research and clinical labs of all sizes and complexities.

However, core functionality that you should look for in a modern lab information management solution include:

  • extensive sample management, profiling and tracking capability
  • automated workflows – especially your critical lab processes
  • a comprehensive audit trail
  • freezer and storage management
  • inventory management including consumables and assets
  • barcode label printing and scanning
  • strong searching capability
  • recording test results
  • real-time analysis and reporting tools
  • configuration tools
  • integration with other applications including instrument based data transfer
  • user authentication and security permissions

In addition to helping you manage samples, some advanced lab information management software may also include donor profiling with informed consent management as well as links with electronic notebooks (ELN). Some systems may also include tools to plan and manage studies and clinical trials.

Improving quality and quality control using lab information management software in your lab

The main purpose of a LIMS for many labs is to improve quality. This is not just limited to data quality but also quality across products and service delivery.  The software helps to do this in several ways by:

  • providing data management tools that help validate and standardise your information
  • automating laboratory workflows to save time, enforce consistency and effectively manage standard procedures
  • data import and integration capabilities to remove data duplication and re-entry and as a result reduce risks of human error
  • introducing quality control measures such as approvals processes, data analysis tools and automated alerts
  • automatically auditing actions performed for monitoring and traceability. This gives you chain of custody data and and you can also use this information to assess sample viability
  • increasing visibility of data, products and resources while still protecting sensitive information
  • helping labs meet regulatory compliance such as Human Tissue Act (HTA), MHRA, CFR 21 Part 11 and accreditations like ISO 17025, by providing evidence for compliance through real time data analysis and reports.

Using a LIMS to increase efficiency

Using software to automate workflows in your lab can help you increase efficiency. Although this is only true if your processes are working well in the first place.

At its most basic a LIMS provides sample and laboratory data management and tracking. It can support your critical lab workflows from initial sample receipt and associated data collection, through to storage, processing, analysing and finally to shipping, depletion or destruction.

Some LIMS come with standard lab processes ‘out-of-the-box’ for workflow management. You can take advantage of these if they match your lab operations. However, being able to configure existing or new processing into the software offers you the best option.

Mapping your workflows into the lab information system also helps ensure consistency and enforce protocols. What’s more, the software guides and prompts your team through each process. All this can help you save time on system training.

Data import and integration functions can help you bring in data from other systems such as samples test results from instruments. This helps your lab improve productivity by reducing data duplication and re-keying.

Helping your lab become ‘paperless’

As LIMS stands for laboratory information management system it should be no surprise that one of its key functions is to improve data management. Having a dedicated system to manage your lab data enables you to get rid of spreadsheets and paper-based forms. Unlike a spreadsheet that has no audit trail, lab information management software automatically records each time you update data. So, you can see exactly what has happened with each sample, when and by who.

Also, you can connect with other online systems, such as electronic notebooks (ELNB) and e-consent forms. This means you don’t have to print out lots of notes.

As a result of less paper, you’re reducing the risk of misplacing or losing important or sensitive data.

Simplifying collaboration

Sharing information and working in collaboration with other researchers and organisations could be pivotal to your success. You may have multiple teams working on a study or clinical trial. Alternatively, you may want to reuse or share samples with other researchers in your organisation – or even across other institutes. It can be difficult, if not impossible to do this, if your information is held in separate systems and spreadsheets. Simply knowing and finding what samples you have and want to make available for others to use can take time.

Laboratory data management software provides a central, searchable system for all your lab information. This allows researchers across different teams to see, work with and share information and resources.

In addition, cloud-based LIMS enable data to be accessed wherever you are with no setup or software installation required.

The role of LIMS in lab digital transformation strategies

Digital transformation is no longer a buzzword – it’s now seen as something that’s essential to ensure business survival and longevity. For a busy, modern laboratory it’s difficult to keep accurate data records without using some kind of software.

But digital transformation involves much more than using the latest technology. It’s about reviewing the way you work. Then using the latest technologies to introduce more efficient and innovative ways of working. This covers everything from managing your lab workflows to communicating across your lab and with the wider world.

Implementing and using a modern LIMS is a crucial step in your lab’s digital transformation. Not only because it’s the central hub for your lab’s data by connecting multiple systems but also it’s the driver for many of your lab’s essential processes. As a result, it can transform the way you work and communicate by leveraging technologies including AI, APIs and cloud solutions.

Developing your own in-house laboratory information management system

At its core a LIMS may use a database to store data but it’s more than a SQL database. So, if you’re thinking about creating your own in-house LIMS consider how you’re going to manage your lab processes, security and auditing as well as your data. Don’t always think that it’s cheaper to create your own system as there are often many hidden costs associated with building bespoke software.

Also, just because you built the system doesn’t mean that it’s easier for you to update whenever you need to. What if the person who built it leaves or you have to wait for your IT team to make any system changes? There are configurable laboratory information management systems that enable you to adapt the system to meet your exact requirements – without coding or requiring your IT team.

It is possible for you to build your own system. However, a commercial LIMS allows you to focus on the science while knowing that your supporting software is working for you in the background.

Discover more about LIMS benefits and what to look for in a system

Modern LIMS software can deliver tangible improvements in quality, efficiency, productivity and accuracy. It can also give you intangible benefits including confidence in your data and ultimately your results.

However, it’s important to be aware that each system will offer you different benefits. This can be due to a number of factors including what technology the software uses.

Benefits LIMS in lab

Benefits of using a LIMS

Learn more about what your lab could achieve by implementing a laboratory information management system

Benefits of Lab Compliance

Benefits of lab compliance

Read more about how a LIMS can help you meet regulatory compliance and its associated benefits

Working with a LIMS

Choosing a LIMS

Discover what to look for when choosing your LIMS to make sure that it delivers what you need

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