So, what is a LIMS? A LIMS or Laboratory Information Management System is a software solution to address the data management, automation, and regulatory challenges of laboratories across the globe. As the name suggests, a LIMS is used to effectively manage laboratory samples and the associated data, thus standardizing operations by maintaining workflows, tests, and reporting procedures. With the growing needs of laboratories, the traditional LIMS too has evolved, with the system being able to do much more than just tracking samples.
The earliest LIMS was developed as a system to keep a track of the movement of samples in a laboratory. Since then, LIMS has expanded to be an integrated solution for all laboratory data management needs including maintaining sample records, tracking of tests performed, managing customer services and managing invoices for the services rendered. This had led to the LIMS slowly replacing other laboratory data management solutions such as ELN (Electronic Laboratory Notebooks), patient portals, barcode management systems, accounting software, etc. Another key feature that most modern LIMS have implemented is a configuration tool. The tool makes the system versatile to meet your workflow requirements and match the terminology you use in your laboratory, eliminating the need for costly customization.
What is the role of a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)?
The most important role that LIMS plays in a laboratory is to increase the operational efficiency of the laboratory by automating and streamlining the workflows, eliminating the need for maintaining information manually and meeting regulatory guidelines. A good LIMS facilitates both easy record keeping and reporting, thus eliminating the risks of human errors and improving the overall turnaround time.
How does a LIMS work?
Briefly, a LIMS covers the journey of a sample from its induction into a laboratory till the end of its life cycle, including the stages of Sample Storage, Testing, Reporting and Archiving. As a sample is introduced into a lab, the LIMS operation starts by accessioning the sample on to the system and assigning it with a particular identification number. As and when the samples move through the laboratory, the related information can then be updated in a LIMS to maintain the audit trail.
Typical LIMS Workflow
Purposes of Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)
As mentioned above, a good LIMS balances both record keeping as well as report generation. Some of the core functions of a LIMS include:
Sample management is one of the critical functions of a LIMS. A LIMS manages detailed and accurate records of each sample and stores it securely, thus eliminating loss of data as it moves between the departments. Additionally, when the sample moves from one unit of the laboratory to another, the Chain of Custody is updated to ensure proper tracking of the sample’s location and custodian.
The inventory management function of LIMS is an essential part of a laboratory ‘s day-to-day management. A LIMS manages stock supplies and reagents. A LIMS can also generate automatic reorder alerts in case of stock depletion. These alerts facilitate laboratory workflows and prevent any delays resulting from the unavailability of stocks. A LIMS can also help to keep detailed and up-to-date information about your equipment and notify when any equipment is due for upgrade or maintenance.
A LIMS helps standardize testing workflows while providing complete and accurate control of the testing process. A LIMS allows you to manage the test conducted on the batch of samples, enables easy entry of the results, tracking approval/validation of results, and generation of reports. Besides, it allows you to manage test analytes and allocate tests to specific LIMS users.
Reporting is an essential part of LIMS that enables a laboratory to achieve an entire view of data collected and potential trends, reducing reporting overhead of the laboratory. A LIMS allows you to generate reports including sample tracking, sample summary, inventory, system configuration, test results, audit trail, QC data, sample/analysis count, invoices, freezer space, instrument calibration, etc.
Who can use a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)?
There are various industries that use a Laboratory Information Management System to manage their laboratory data. Some of the major industries include:
Clinical Research & Diagnostics- manage patient data and specimen information, maintain various test records and test results, generate reports, and automate laboratory workflows.
Biobanks and Biorepositories- track biological samples and manage their storage locations for easy retrieval of the samples and their associated data.
Food & Beverage Testing Laboratories- manage food and beverage samples, maintain test records, generate reports, and automate testing workflows.
Cannabis Testing Laboratories- manages clients, test orders, cannabis samples, tests for cannabinoid and pesticide levels, terpenes, moisture, heavy metal, fungi and molds, and generates a Certificate of Analysis (COA) while complying with regulatory compliance (ISO 17025)
Oil & Gas Testing Laboratories- manages sample batches, tests, testing schedules, sample monitoring, and review and validation of results with complete traceability for external auditing purposes.
Agriculture Testing Laboratories- manages sample types like soil, plant tissue, seeds, insects, feed, oils, nuts, husks, flowers, and more. The laboratories maintain sample booking, tracking, testing, quality control, test report generation, facilitating growers to take decisions in the field.
A Laboratory Information Management System offers a multitude of benefits in terms of laboratory data management. Some of the key functional benefits of a LIMS are:
1. Sample management wherein a user can efficiently track samples through the laboratory and allocate storage locations that mimic the sample storage hierarchy.
2. Workflow automation that leads to a decrease in possible human errors by eliminating manual entry of data.
3. Configurable user interface to meet the unique requirements of different laboratories and mirror their existing workflows.
4. Secure and restricted access to the data leading to better data privacy and protection.
5. Easy data backup and data mining options, resolving data accessibility issues.
6. User-role based access distribution to mirror the real-time laboratory personnel hierarchy.
7. Ease of reporting, wherein an authorized user can quickly generate reports pertaining to (a) the various tests performed, and (b) data required for auditing and quick analysis (for example, the total number of samples logged during a particular period or from a particular region).
8. Streamlined billing process by generating invoices and integrating with the various payment portals.
9. Easy regulatory compliance including HIPAA, 21 CFR Part 11, ISO/IEC 17025:2017, ISO 15189, EU GDPR, ISO 20387, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), Good Laboratory Practice (GLP), and Good Automated Manufacturing Practice (GAMP) .
Features of a good LIMS
1. Easy configuration to ensure compatibility with customer requirements and adaptability to the evolving laboratory needs.
2. Seamless tracking of a sample’s lifecycle, right from sample accessioning, storage, and sample tests, to the permanent disposal of samples.
3. A user-friendly interface with access to the various modules and functionality based on access privileges.
4. Easy exchange of data between a Laboratory Information Management System and other instruments via flexible integration facility.
Advantages of an in the cloud LIMS
Using a Laboratory Information Management System hosted in the cloud offers several service advantages over traditional on-premise LIMS for managing the ever-growing laboratory data. A cloud-based LIMS leverages the power of the cloud for resource utilization, storage flexibility, security and scaling benefits:
Highly scalable and flexible to meet the present-day needs and also the future needs of a laboratory.
No need for expensive hardware purchases and IT personnel making it affordable for small to medium-sized laboratories.
Quick deployment makes your laboratory up and running quickly.
Automatic software updates ensure that users can always access the latest version of the Laboratory Information Management System product. Server backups and disaster recovery mechanisms help get you quickly up to speed in the eventuality of a man-made or natural disaster.
Implementing a LIMS improves the overall operational efficiency of a laboratory. A LIMS saves time otherwise spent on manual data logging and maintenance, thus offering an efficient data management solution. This leads to a decrease in human-error and a more accurate information system to support various decisions. It also comes with an audit trail, that automatically reduces the time taken for manual auditing. Additionally, a LIMS is most useful when dealing with voluminous data that requires batch analysis and repetitive daily operations. It also covers various compliance standards, helping laboratories maintain their regulatory, safety and privacy standards.
Read LIMS Vs. LIS to understand the key differences in the two products.