Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) play a very important role in test labs by organizing workflows, centralizing data storage, and providing visibility to testing stakeholders. As testing processes get more complex and more stakeholders get involved with the outcome of testing, it’s crucial that your LIMS has what’s needed to meet the functional requirements of your lab. In this blog post, we’ll explore the key features that every LIMS should have and that every lab can benefit from.
Sample & Test Tracking
One of the most fundamental features of any LIMS is the ability to track samples and their associated tests within the lab. The system should provide real-time visibility into the current status of all tests and the samples assigned to those tests. As any lab engineer or lab manager knows, one of the most common questions asked of a lab is “What’s the status of my testing?” Being able to quickly locate samples and their tests to answer that question saves everyone a lot of time.
LIMS should include project management capabilities that allow lab managers to create and assign tasks to appropriate personnel. While performing tests is the primary function of any lab, there are a lot of other critical tasks that go unseen by people outside of the lab. Nevertheless, these tasks are often:
- Required by industry standards like ISO/IEC 17025 (requester and lab manager review of testing).
- Time-consuming and should be explicitly defined for transparency (setup and teardown of equipment for testing).
- The cause of delays when not appropriately prioritized (ordering and receiving samples).
The system should have the ability to save and reuse templates for tests, tasks, and projects. A big reason for even using a LIMS in the first place is to help standardize the lab’s process. When templates can be used for well-defined testing and projects, the requester can save a lot of time when requesting testing from the lab. In addition, templates can also help prevent mistakes when requesting tests since the templates are often checked and verified before being made available to requesters.
A corrective action is a process designed to address and fix an identified problem or nonconformity in within the lab’s workflow. The primary goal of corrective actions is to eliminate the root cause of the issue, prevent its recurrence, and ensure continuous improvement. Every LIMS should have corrective actions built-in so that testing problems, safety concerns, and other issues encountered in the lab can be logged, tracked, and ultimately fixed within the system. Bonus points if the LIMS includes the ability to print completed corrective actions for auditor review.
Change Tracking / Audit Trail
This refers to the automated recording and monitoring of changes made to data and settings within the LIMS system. Whether data is changed on purpose or on accident, it’s important for the LIMS to be able to record such changes along with a timestamp, the user who made the change, and how the data was changed. This is essential for maintaining data integrity, ensuring compliance with ISO/IEC 17025, and providing transparency.
LIMS metrics refer to the key performance indicators and quantitative measurements used to assess the performance, efficiency, and effectiveness of the lab. These metrics play a crucial role in evaluating the laboratory operations and overall organizational goals. Here are some common metrics that a LIMS should be able to track:
- Turnaround time
- Resource utilization
- Equipment downtime
- Lab satisfaction
A LIMS schedule view is important since it provides an “at a glance” view of your lab’s resources and their assignments. It helps lab managers better plan resources, balance workloads, and plan capacity. For technicians, a schedule clearly communicates their priorities and equipment availability. Requesters can also use the schedule to help estimate when testing could be completed if they were to request testing today. From all sides involved with the lab, a schedule can be a crucial tool for lab transparency and communication.
LIMS should allow users to create custom reports tailored to the specific needs of the laboratory. Different types of tests, different customers, and different data types are all factors when a laboratory is creating reports for its end users. This flexibility helps labs not only meet their current reporting requirements, but it also allows the lab the adapt to future requirements as the needs of the lab change over time.
A LIMS should have a robust search functionality for several reasons, as it significantly enhances the efficiency, accessibility, and overall effectiveness of laboratory operations. Here are big reasons why a robust search capability is an important feature for a LIMS:
- Efficient Data Retrieval. A robust search feature allows users to quickly and efficiently retrieve specific information with large lists of projects. This is essential for engineers and laboratory personnel who often need to access specific samples, tests, or data points promptly.
- Time-Saving. Laboratories deal with extensive volumes of data. A powerful search function minimizes the time spent manually navigating through records, enabling users to find relevant information swiftly. This time-saving aspect enhances overall productivity.
- User Adoption. An intuitive and efficient search function contributes to user satisfaction and adoption of the LIMS. Users are more likely to embrace and leverage the system if they can quickly find the information they need, leading to increased overall efficiency.
- Complex Query Support. Laboratories often require complex queries to extract specific information. A robust search functionality should support advanced search queries, allowing users to perform detailed searches based on multiple criteria.
Notifications play a crucial role in a LIMS as they provide timely alerts and updates to users, contributing to efficient laboratory operations and data management. Here are several reasons why notifications are important for a LIMS:
- Real-time Communication. Notifications enable real-time communication, allowing laboratory personnel to receive instant updates on critical events, task completions, or issues. This ensures that everyone stays informed promptly.
- Task and Workflow Management. Notifications help in task and workflow management by alerting users when a task is assigned, completed, or if there are any delays. This feature ensures that laboratory processes are well-coordinated and deadlines are met.
- Quality Control and Alerts. Notifications are essential for quality control measures. They can alert users when certain parameters or results fall outside acceptable ranges, enabling quick identification and resolution of quality issues.
- Sample Tracking and Status Updates. For sample management, notifications keep users informed about the status of samples and their test results.
- Equipment Alerts. Integrating notifications with laboratory equipment allows for increased visibility of equipment status. Alerts can be triggered for equipment malfunctions, maintenance needs, and more.
Notifications are instrumental in creating an agile and responsive laboratory environment. By keeping users informed in real-time, notifications contribute to improved communication, streamlined workflows, and effective decision-making in a LIMS. They are an integral part of maintaining the efficiency, accuracy, and compliance of laboratory operations.
The key LIMS features outlined in this blog post form the foundation for robust lab management software, providing laboratories with the tools needed to increase efficiency, help ensure compliance, and improve the overall organization of the lab’s processes. See our Ultimate Guide to LIMS for more information.