Laboratory Information Management System
July 15, 2021
Laboratory workflows in healthcare systems have expanded rapidly over the years, going from the relatively straightforward patient sample tracking processes to software-based solutions that support and automate laboratory data tracking, sample analysis, instrument integration, and centralized data access as well as storage.
A laboratory information management system (LIMS or LIS) software provides a backbone for laboratory administration and management in clinical labs.
What is a Laboratory Management System?
A laboratory information management system, by definition, is designed to handle data management for a laboratory. It can help minimize the stress of managing a lab by improving the efficiency of analyzing test results, managing lab samples, and much more. The full scope of LIMS laboratory information management LIS laboratory information systems can be extended beyond effectively managing sample processes to include various other workflows that are employed by a lab, such as:
- Automated barcoding of samples
- Avoidance of manual error and test-code mismatches
- Performance of data analytics and lab audits
- Maintenance of lab equipment/instruments
- Management of workload among lab personnel and laboratory inventory
- Integration of the laboratory information system and financial management for easier and more accurate billing
In a Healthcare Setting: Clinical Laboratory Information Management System
In healthcare, LIMS laboratory information systems and LIS laboratory information systems integrate all processes that track a patient’s journey through the system. From the moment a patient first encounters a hospital/clinic where an electronic health record (EHR) of the patient’s details are created, up until the final test report is generated and billing completed, the laboratory LIMS and LIS software solution interfaces with other software and analytical instruments to seamlessly exchange data, manage samples, automate workflows, and produce timely and accurate test results in the form of a lab report.
Hospitals and clinics handle large streams of data, and need innovative solutions to streamline the data in an organized manner; only then can clinicians draw clinical insights from a patient’s lab reports. In addition to running a sample through the required tests in a lab, other lab functions such as ensuring compliance with government regulations, documentation, managing lab resources, and securing centralized data storage/access are integrated into a lab’s LIMS or LIS for efficient lab management.
LIS and LIMS Software Benefits
The benefits of LIMS and LIS software solutions lie in bringing digitization and automation to clinical labs, paving the way to efficient lab management. The advantages of LIMS and LIS in a lab are:
- Swift registration and barcoding of samples
- Flexibility in software solutions to adopt new tests/updates into a sample workflow
- Assurance of compliance with government regulatory bodies, to ensure that the lab’s tests/diagnostics and quality control are up-to-date
- Standardized test workflows to ensure reproducibility
- Integrates with instruments in the lab to maintain a unified interface for deploying a diagnosis/workflow
- LIS and LIMS data management supports interoperability between different software to seamlessly integrate the lab with the clinic/hospital, etc.
- Maintains a searchable audit trail
- Assured quality control of sample management
A Laboratory Information Management System: How Does it Work?
A basic LIMS or LIS manages patient samples, and all the different types of data associated with those samples (consultation details such as demographics, diagnostic tests run, results from the test, billing, etc.). A lab’s workflow can become complicated due to the many intersections of data among and within samples. LIS and LIMS software solutions streamline this process by tracking and recording a patient’s barcoded sample, loading/logging it into the appropriate workflow and tracking its progress at every stage, as well as generating reports from the tests run and the recorded test results. All of a patient’s consolidated data can be accessed/retrieved by lab personnel through a database search or using a patient’s demographic data.
The workflow of a LIMS or LIS can be summarized into the following steps: accessioning, recording, tracking, obtaining results, reporting, and storing/managing samples over time. These systems improve on previous manual record-keeping strategies and minimize inconsistencies in the way samples are labeled and stored through barcoding. This improves the identification of samples and sample retrieval, when necessary, as well as turnaround times and ultimately, patient safety.
The best LIMS solution/LIS solution can also interface with laboratory instruments, and a sample’s status can also be instantly referred to through its barcode, and securely stored for long periods on an internal server/centralized database.
Difference Between LIS and LIMS Software Solutions
The terms laboratory information system (LIS) and laboratory information management system (LIMS) are often used interchangeably, despite their differences. On the whole, LIS is used to define hospital workflows that are patient-centric, whereas LIMS refers to a lab’s workflows that are sample-centric. LIMS thus has a wider application and may be installed to ensure efficient sample handling in industrial, food/agricultural, and biomedical labs. LIS, on the other hand, typically refers to hospital workflows that collect and manage patient information and metadata.
LIS software solutions focus on keeping patient data secure and confidential, and strictly adhere to laws that ensure patient privacy, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Apart from the importance given to ensuring data security, other functionalities of a LIS are for the most part similar to the LIMS solutions, such as managing patient samples and tracking them, maintaining a historical record of patient reports/diagnoses/treatment outcomes, interfacing with other hospital software systems and instruments to exchange data, and integrating results from lab analysis workflows into a report.
Despite these similarities, LIMS centers around samples, either individually or in large batches. LIMS software is compliant with standards or regulations that ensure good lab practices, such as ISO/IEC 17025. A main focus is quality control for a lab’s workflows.
As LIMS and LIS software evolve, their functionalities continue to overlap.
When looking at buying a LIMS or LIS system, it is recommended to approach LIS and LIMS vendors directly, who are in the best position to demonstrate the software and suggest how a lab's chosen software solution may be tailored/adapted to the lab’s needs.
Importance of a Laboratory Information Management System
In conclusion, LIS and LIMS systems allow for efficient integration of a lab’s workflows. LIS and LIMS vendors, with laboratory input, can modify the systems, customizing the workflows to each lab’s unique requirements. For example, a pathology LIMS or LIS would need to facilitate a very different workflow from a clinical lab LIMS or LIS.
Both minimize manual errors and improve lab productivity by recording and managing samples and patient data that would otherwise require interaction from lab personnel, thus improving overall efficiency of a laboratory’s technical operations.