How Best Practices and Advanced Technology Help Ensure Lab Data Integrity
April 10, 2023
Sometimes the most basic problems are the hardest to solve.
Take data management as an example. How can clinical labs and pathology groups ensure they have end-to-end data integrity at every stage of the specimen lifecycle (pre-analytic, analytic, and post-analytic)?
It goes without saying that issues with lab data management systems lead to processing errors and delayed test results within the laboratory, and both can also have severe consequences downstream in terms of patient care and malpractice claims.
Because of this, pathology and clinical laboratories are on the constant lookout for better ways to manage data and thereby protect the patients they serve.
A Two-Pronged Approach to Lab Data Integrity
To solve this basic problem of effective lab data management, the best medical lab operators deploy a combination of stringent adherence to established best practices and advanced technology.
First, let’s examine how these established best practices positively relate to accurate and reliable diagnostic testing and ultimately to better patient outcomes.
- Quality Control: Medical laboratories should implement quality control programs to ensure the accuracy and reliability of their testing. This entails the regular monitoring of test results and analyzer/equipment performance, as well as proficiency testing and internal quality assessments.
- Standard Operating Procedures: Medical laboratories should have well-documented (and regularly updated) standard operating procedures, or SOPs, for all laboratory processes. From sample collection to data reporting and everything in between, SOPs should include protocols for identifying and reporting errors and variances, and for correcting both promptly.
- Staff Education and Training: Medical laboratories should provide their staff with regular training and education on new testing methodologies, systems, equipment, and procedures. This helps to ensure that laboratory staffers are knowledgeable and up-to-date on all of the lab’s best practices. It also helps with staff retention and the onboarding of new staff members.
- Information Security: Medical laboratories should implement modern and robust data security protocols to protect patient privacy and prevent unauthorized access to Protected Health Information (PHI). This includes measures such as password protection, encryption, and restricted access to sensitive data.
- External Quality Assurance: It’s also a good idea for medical laboratories to participate in external quality assurance programs, such as proficiency testing and accreditation programs, to ensure that their testing meets recognized standards of quality and accuracy.
Next, let’s examine how these best practices coupled with advanced technology can ensure data integrity from test order inception to lab report generation and distribution.
The best lab operators understand that best practices can only take them so far and that laboratory information management software is a necessity for any laboratory interested in scaling productivity without increasing the chance of medical errors and sacrificing the quality of patient care.
It’s also a necessity based on the two big interrelated issues the pathology industry is now faced with, and that’s dealing with laboratory burnout related to all-time high diagnostic testing volumes and a serious shortage of qualified laboratory personnel to manage the workload.
Fortunately, pathologists, medical directors, lab managers, lab techs, and all other laboratory personnel are used to doing more with less, and in this case, that means implementing strategies to become more efficient and productive without adding human resources.
The Advantages Present in Modern Laboratory Information Systems
The current environment calls for laboratory efficiency gained by the process optimization detailed earlier where bottlenecks are identified and eliminated, and by lab information system upgrades that take advantage of automation and the latest technologies.
When introduced into a clinical lab workflow, LIS software automation streamlines and simplifies routine tasks, such as:
- Automating Data Entry: Modern LIS can automate the process of entering data into its system, reducing the need for manual data entry and minimizing errors. An example of this is the integration of a modern LIS with a health system’s electronic health record (EHR) system for the bi-directional digital transmission of patient and specimen data.
- Streamlining Workflows: Modern LIS can automate tasks like specimen tracking, test ordering, and test result reporting. This automation improves efficiency and reduces the risk of delays caused by errors and lost specimens.
- Improving Data Accuracy: Modern LIS can help the laboratory enforce standard protocols for data entry and provide validation checks as data is entered into the system.
- Enhancing Data Security: Modern LIS can help to ensure data security in all departments by providing access controls, audit trails, and encryption.
- Providing Real-Time Data Access: Modern LIS can provide real-time access to laboratory data with just a few clicks, enabling laboratory staff to quickly and easily retrieve test results, track the status of specimens, and monitor laboratory operations at both a high and granular level.
- Facilitating Data Analysis: Modern LIS can facilitate data mining and analysis, enabling the C-suite and department heads to identify trends and patterns in laboratory data and proficiency.
Modern LIS system software also supports other system automation within the lab, uniting all laboratory informatics into one source of truth that improves accuracy, reduces test turnaround times, and even better, frees up staff time for more complex tasks.
Here are a few examples that demonstrate how modern pathology lab software systems can support other lab systems and help create simplified lab workflows:
- Tissue Processing: Automation can be used to streamline the prepping of tissue for analysis (fixation, embedding, and sectioning). Automated tissue processors boost productivity by handling multiple specimens at once, and they can also be programmed to run overnight, greatly reducing the time required for processing.
- Slide Staining: Automated slide stainers can apply stains to tissue sections, and these systems can also be programmed to apply multiple stains to a single slide. Automation in this instance leads to the quick and accurate processing of a large volume of slides.
- Digital Imaging: Digital pathology involves the use of digital imaging technology to capture high-resolution images of tissue specimens that are viewed via a computer monitor rather than a microscope. The capturing of images is quick and accurate, and with the assistance of a modern LIS system, these images can easily be included along with other diagnostic information on the lab report.
- Image Analysis: Automated image analysis software can be used to analyze a large number of digital images of tissue specimens in a short period of time to identify the presence of abnormalities such as cancer cells, aiding the pathologist with more accurate diagnoses.
- Report Generation: Automated pathology reporting software can be used to generate pathology reports, which provide a summary of the findings from the analysis of tissue specimens. The pathology reporting software can be programmed to generate reports quickly and accurately, reducing the risk of errors and improving the speed of diagnosis.
Now a word of caution. Not all LIS systems are created equally with advanced automation capabilities. There are automated labs with modern LIS systems, and then there are inefficient labs saddled with legacy LIS systems that are rigid, inflexible, and unreliable.
The best LIS software can combine advanced automation with comprehensive and highly configurable modules that can:
- Standardize all technical and financial processes
- Boost productivity and accuracy
- Seamlessly integrate with your existing systems
To learn more and make sure that the LIS systems and LIS software vendors you’re researching offer modern and reliable solutions, here’s a blog post that examines the difference between modern and legacy pathology software.
Comparing LigoLab Informatics Platform with Legacy Laboratory Information System Software
You can also contact us directly via the form below to set up a 15-minute introductory call with a lab information system specialist who can answer any questions, and if it makes sense for both parties, set up an interactive LIS software demonstration.