A laboratory information management system (LIMS) is software designed to make labs that process large quantities of samples for research and development (R&D), manufacturing, and clinical research more efficient and effective.
Every type of lab can benefit from a LIMS or a laboratory management system (LMS), but they’re most often found in manufacturing and quality assurance. Some examples include:
- Labs handling R&D for oil and gas companies
- Industrial chemical creation and testing
- Water treatment plant testing
- Food safety
- Environmental facilities
The type of lab you run will determine which type of software you should go with. LIMSs are also used in the medical and pharmaceutical industries. And, along with laboratory information systems (LIS), LIMS is also a type of medical lab software.
Nearly every top pharma lab currently uses a LIMS, according to Gartner’s 2016 Life Sciences Hype Cycle (full content available to Gartner clients). They’re useful for biobanks and genomics testing facilities along with labs that research drugs and develop formulations.
In this post, I’ll be focusing mainly on how LIMSs impact clinical sample analysis in medical labs.
The purpose of a LIMS
The primary purpose of a LIMS is to improve efficiency in lab operations by cutting down on manual tasks.
For example, a LIMS automatically records information that would otherwise need to be typed in or written down, thereby saving time and reducing errors.
What information your LIMS automatically captures, how it enters the system, and where and how it’s stored depends on which LIMS vendor you choose.
Some LIMS will be better at helping certain types of labs operate more efficiently, but not be as appropriate for others.
Functions commonly found in a LIMS
Each system operates a little bit differently. I’ll elaborate on some common LIMS features and functions below.
As samples move from person to person and place to place, it’s easy for them to get lost or mixed up. Accurate, detailed records are essential to making sure everything gets done and done right. For example, a good record should tell you whether a sample meets project criteria, but they can be a pain to create and maintain.
When you create a sample, most LIMSs will record and store information such as:
- Who or what the sample was taken from
- Which researchers/providers are working with it
- Where it’s been, and where it needs to go next
- How to store it
- When it needs to move
Ideally, the LIMS will automate as much of this as possible. Some use RFID to create and update audit logs and chain of custody to automatically track where the sample is in every stage of the process. Barcodes also work for this purpose.
You should use an LIMS to automate workflows for the same reason you should use it to automate records keeping, but instead of saving work, this function saves you time.
When you codify existing methods and procedures in a LIMS, you delegate decision-making to the software. For example, it can automatically assign work to scientists and suggest instruments based on preset rules. And instead of looking up what you need to do with a sample and where it needs to go next, a good LIMS will automatically provide this information.
It’s nice to be able to quickly pull reports that can answer questions such as which instruments get used the most, how long your sample backlog is, and how long it takes your lab, on average, to process a sample. This kind of data is extremely useful for data analysis auditing and audit trail.
Some LIMS will be more granular in their reporting than others. For example, one LIMS might be able to tell you what your average sample processing time is, but another might tell you your average time broken out by type of sample. It’s helpful to know what kind of reporting and level of reporting you need before you begin comparing vendors.
Keep in mind, just because a LIMS can run a report doesn’t mean it’s easy. Some reports require custom coding to set up and run. And some systems can export to Adobe PDF and Microsoft Word, but not Google Drive.
Electronic health records (EHR) is its own type of software, but some LIMSs have EHR functionality built-in, including patient check-in and billing. If you don’t have a software package offering these features, choosing a LIMS with this kind of functionality can be a huge asset when managing your clinical lab.
Gartner’s Hype Cycle says that mobile LIMS offerings are limited right now. But as smartphones become more acceptable in the lab, consider whether it will be useful to you in the future to have a mobile-friendly LIMS.
ERP software helps manage inventory, and it can be very helpful to have a LIMS that performs this function. Being able to view what you have on hand at a glance, getting alerts when supplies are running low, auto-calculation of storage and freezer capacity, and location management can be extremely useful in a clinical lab.
Tips for choosing the right LIMS for your lab
Let’s take a look at some key considerations for choosing a LIMS.
Choose a LIMS specifically designed for clinical labs
Because LIMSs are used across industries, some functionality is industry-specific, You don’t want to pay for features that are only useful to oil and gas companies, and you don’t want a LIMS that can’t handle everything you need to run a clinical lab. Choose a LIMS vendor that either only serves clinical labs or at least has functionality built for your particular setting.
Every year, our collective ability to store and analyze data cheaply and effectively improves, making data more and more valuable. The clinical lab setting is no exception. Data is one of your most important assets, so you should choose an LIMS that can help you get the most value out of that resource. Choose a LIMS with data management capabilities, including assay data management, data mining, data analysis, and strong analytics with dashboards that are easy for management to read and easy for you to glean insights from.
To help manage your clinical lab more efficiently, check out our medical lab software directory.