When respondents of the 2022 Digital Lab of the Future survey were asked which systems in their lab they were planning to upgrade or implement to better support lab digitization initiatives in the future, nearly half (42%) of the respondents reported they were actively seeking to implement or upgrade their Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). The statistics speak volumes about the growing recognition of LIMS as a catalyst for laboratory digital transformation. While for some respondents, the need to automate their lab processes emerged as the driver for digital transformation, for some, it was the need to capture lab data and experimental parameters. Now, there are numerous systems on the market that a lab can choose from. And, whether it’s an upgrade or an implementation a lab is contemplating, there are some features that are absolutely essential for a modern lab. In this blog post, we delve into these must-have features of a modern LIMS that can catapult a lab’s capabilities to new heights.
Must-Have Features of a Modern LIMS
Automated workflow management: Automated workflow management is a crucial aspect of modern LIMS software. It enables laboratory personnel to create and oversee workflows tailored to specific sample types and processes. These workflows effectively lead staff through each step of tests or experiments, guaranteeing the accurate and timely completion of all required tasks in line with the pre-defined standard operating procedures (SOPs).
LIMS security features: A modern LIMS incorporates features that safeguard data integrity, such as data validation checks, audit trails, and electronic signatures. Furthermore, masking of sensitive data safeguards confidential patient information, ensuring compliance with HIPAA regulations and bolstering data privacy. Features such as two-factor authentication further enhance laboratory security through an additional layer of identity verification, safeguarding sensitive data and operations.
QA/QC management: With the ability to configure test validation preferences, a robust LIMS streamlines the validation process by allowing simultaneous validation of multiple tests. This ensures the accuracy and reliability of each test result. A reliable LIMS goes beyond test validation, supporting seamless management of QC samples and their corresponding test results. A systematic comparison between the results of QC samples and actual test samples enables lab technicians to swiftly identify discrepancies and take corrective actions, minimizing the chances of inaccuracies slipping through.
Inventory management: This allows managing laboratory inventory, such as reagents, glassware, surgical masks, etc., and importing inventory records from a file. This feature guarantees that your inventory supplies are always well-stocked, preventing any shortages and ensuring that your valuable time is never wasted waiting for replenishments.
Instrument integration: Laboratories produce huge volumes of data. More often than not, this data needs to be stored alongside sample tracking details. A modern LIMS supports instrument integration enabling a seamless exchange of information between the LIMS and various laboratory instruments such as HPLC, GC-MS, LC-MS, and more. This real-time exchange streamlines data capture, facilitates a harmonious workflow, and reduces manual errors.
Equipment management: From recording equipment information to scheduling instrument maintenance, sending out maintenance or calibration alerts, ensuring the upkeep of equipment, and tracking lab equipment performance over time, a LIMS makes it easier to maintain and manage lab equipment as well as ensure optimal performance at all times.
Document management: This feature is essential for managing all internal and external documents, such as SOPs, tracking the revision history of documents, assigning documents for review, and controlling access to confidential documents.
Storage management: Locating lab samples can be a daunting task, particularly in extensive labs and biobanks with multiple refrigerators and freezers spread across various rooms and floors. A reliable LIMS offers efficient storage management features that can be configured to a lab’s specific needs, enabling seamless tracking of sample locations down to precise box details within the building.
Robust sample management: This entails the capability to monitor samples from the time of their arrival in the lab until they are either discarded or shipped out, or archived. Additionally, a modern LIMS should have the functionality to handle sample processing, which involves creating sample chains of custody, assigning samples to particular users and instruments, and recording the outcomes of any tests or analyses.
Batch management: Having a batch management system is essential to complement sample management. Without efficient batch management, handling large quantities of samples becomes challenging. Given that labs typically possess high throughput instruments, processing multiple samples simultaneously, it becomes crucial to monitor and trace sample batches from the accessioning stage to data reporting.
Good-to-Have Features of a Modern LIMS
Barcode labeling: In every laboratory, proper labeling of all samples, inventory items, and storage inventory is crucial. Barcode labeling simplifies the process of scanning and locating samples in a LIMS, ensuring efficient and accurate retrieval of information.
External user portals: External user portals are invaluable tools for labs, particularly clinical labs handling samples from clients. A patient portal offers patients access to lab results and reports, allowing them to conveniently review their results and discuss the information with their healthcare providers. A physician portal provides physicians with real-time access to lab results, ensuring physicians have the latest information to guide their clinical decisions effectively. A client portal empowers analytical laboratories, such as those focused on cannabis, environmental, and food and beverage testing, to provide their clients with immediate access to certificates of analysis (CoAs) and invoices in real-time.
Staff training management: A LIMS helps manage training and competency records of laboratory personnel and monitor their performance for quality assurance. This helps laboratory managers assign tasks only to the person with the appropriate training, competency, and experience to perform the tasks efficiently.
Services and billing management: A modern LIMS assists in overseeing laboratory services, including sample procurement, storage, and test requests. Additionally, it facilitates the creation of catalogs featuring clearly defined pricing for each service your laboratory provides. It also allows you to generate invoices or upload the invoices generated using any third-party billing software.
Interoperability: A modern LIMS effortlessly integrates with software such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems and billing software like QuickBooks through a REST API, empowering laboratories to effortlessly oversee essential business metrics related to billing, optimize the efficiency of operational processes, and perform accurate data analysis.
A modern LIMS is the backbone of a modern lab. With must-have features like automated workflow management, QA/QC management, and interoperability, a modern LIMS ensures the accurate and timely completion of tasks while streamlining processes. The integration of good-to-have features such as external user portals further enhances a lab’s capabilities, making a LIMS a non-negotiable asset for any forward-looking laboratory seeking to excel in the digital era. Clearly, in the race for scientific advancement, a modern lab equipped with a powerful LIMS is ahead by a mile.