What is a LIMS? A LIMS is a laboratory information management system. In its most basic form, it is a software package and database for handling the work flow, sample life cycle and data storage for a laboratory.
To describe what a laboratory information management system is, I will describe how one functions in the lab. When samples are received into the lab, they are logged into the database and assigned a sample number. At log in, all of the sample’s pertinent information such as lot number and sample date are entered into the database to be associated with that sample. This sample number can then be used to retrieve the sample at any time during its life cycle to either enter data or view the sample’s status or the status of individual tests. This is the very basics to be expected from a LIMS system.
Large LIMS systems do much more than the basics described above. Custom reports and labels are often created and triggered to print at certain points in a sample’s life cycle. An example of this would be a sample label printed upon sample log in or a certificate of analysis or approval label generated upon sample approval.
If the LIMS is set up to perform your testing calculations, you have now standardized these functions. This eliminates the need for checking each calculation for accuracy and significant figures, sending paper back for corrections – all very time consuming quality control tasks.
Tracking sample turn around time is another use of LIMS systems. Since the date and time are recorded at each step in a sample’s life cycle, reports can extract this data and be used to track sample turn around time for the laboratory. In addition, samples or individual tests may be assigned to analysts who can then electronically view the work that they need to perform. If due dates are also assigned to samples, the analysts can also easily prioritize their work.
Once a LIMS has been used for a while, you now have a lot of data that can be mined. You can now easily trend results over time for any data in the LIMS. These are just a few of the benefits that can be realized from a well executed LIMS implementation.
If you are investigating a LIMS for your laboratory, the three most important things to consider are your regulatory requirements, budget and user requirements. For a large lab in a tightly regulated industry, a highly customized LIMS implementation is measured in man years and is large investment in the future efficiency of the lab. A large part of this implementation cost is the validation required before going live. There are less expensive alternatives on the market that will give you the sample management benefits without requiring all of the time consuming customization or the benefits that go with it.