How to Make a LIMS Support Your Lab’s Unique Workflows

How to Make a LIMS Support Your Lab’s Unique Workflows

Commercial off-the-shelf laboratory information management systems (LIMS) often come with pre-built protocols to help labs get up and running quickly. But if your lab solely relies on these pre-built protocols, you’re missing out on efficiencies that could give your business a competitive advantage.

Moving beyond out-of-the-box LIMS functionality

While the pre-built protocols are a good starting point, many labs modify them to meet the specific requirements of their customers or stakeholders. They can also be used as a basis for building unique laboratory-developed tests. We’ve found that labs can also improve their efficiency, establish better quality control (QC), lower costs, and increase turnaround time by expanding on pre-built protocols. We’ve worked with stakeholders at many labs to customize their LIMS in the following ways.

Create custom fields

Custom fields can let you track data relevant to your specific lab setup. For example, consider instruments. While a pre-built protocol might assume you collected QC data using a single instrument, if you have several instances of that type of instrument in your lab, tracking which one was used can provide useful information if you need to troubleshoot.

Similarly, in terms of storage, pre-built protocols rarely specify where a container is being stored in your facility. Recording this information and making it available in reports and on screens can save lab staff considerable time.

Another way that many labs use custom fields is as a place to add user documentation within a workflow. These read-only fields can help users navigate a protocol, or remind them of crucial information where and when they need it.

Set alerts

Too many alerts can lead to alarm fatigue, but the right alert at the right time can save labs time and effort. As a general rule, we recommend labs generate alerts that help the user understand the issue and take corrective action. It’s also important that alerts use terms and language that make sense to the user. We’ve all seen errors that are so vague or cryptic that we’re left wondering what to do next.

For example, an alert that says:

ERROR: more than 1 workflow detected.

This could be rewritten as:

All the samples in this step must be assigned to the same workflow. You have some samples assigned to the ‘Carrier Screen’ workflow as well as some assigned to the ‘Single Gene Confirmation’ workflow.

The revised version clearly explains the issue and gives enough detail so the user can make the necessary changes to continue.

Build integrations

Integrations with instruments, electronic health records/electronic medical records (EHR/EMR), and other enterprise software used in the lab can produce considerable performance gains. They enable the reliable and efficient exchange of information by bridging the gap between two or more self-contained systems.

Out-of-the-box solutions generally do not include pre-built integration options because each integration presents unique challenges in the way that data is exchanged. We consider custom integrations essential for labs seeking to make their processes as robust, scalable, secure, and error-free as possible.

Develop automations

For labs wanting to increase their speed and efficiency, especially those intending to scale throughput, automations are vital. Automated liquid handlers, for example, are frequently used in next-generation sequencing (NGS) labs performing DNA/RNA extraction and purification. The benefits of these devices include their ability to provide automated indexing and multiplexing, automated failure handling and error prevention, and post-step error reporting.

Custom automations can also be used to automate processes such as importing manifests, accessioning, clinical reporting, and order management. For example, we helped one lab streamline a spreadsheet manifest import with an automated data import solution.

Configure or build customized reports

Your lab might also need customized reports for regulatory compliance, to meet the needs of your stakeholders, or to secure funding. LIMS will generally come with some basic reporting, but almost all labs will typically require more robust reporting in the form of:

  • Analytical reports about the nature of lab samples, tests, and turnaround times.
  • Operational reports about completed tests, results, lab performance, and inventory.
  • Financial reports that include revenue and expenses.
  • Compliance reports to meet the requirements of regulatory bodies.

What’s the next step?

If you would like to discuss how your lab could benefit from one or more of these types of customizations, let’s connect. Semaphore has years of experience customizing LIMS for a wide variety of clinical and research laboratories. Moreover, our team talks the language of lab stakeholders and is adept at translating a lab’s unique requirements into an optimal software solution. We can help you build the software foundation you need to make your workflows more efficient, scale throughput, and accelerate accreditation.

I'm one of those chemistry-educated, computer-friendly types that lucked out by landing a job that involves both. My formal education is a Masters in Chemistry, but along the way to that I decided that my goal was to get computers to do all the tedious and repetitive stuff that is part of life in the lab. LIMS can make that happen; all it takes is a decision to take advantage of the software and what it offers. That's the aim of each of my days - make work go faster, more reliably - it's a wonderful challenge.