Getting Clear on Laboratory Informatics

by Nick Beckloff on November 13, 2015 in Uncategorised
Laboratory Information System Diagram Clarity LIMS

Laboratories rely on information to do their work. From samples to downstream analysis, all data tell a story and how those data are managed can be the most important decision any lab makes. Despite what they do, all labs have the same need to manage the information that fuels their processes, and this is typically done using a number of laboratory informatics tools—everything from spreadsheets to expansive laboratory information management systems (LIMS).

With so many platforms available in the market today it can be difficult to understand what each system does. In our work with various labs, we are often asked to describe the various tools and how they differ from one another. In this first of a series of blog posts on all things LIMS-related, we provide a high level overview of each major platform.

Lab Information System (LIS) – A LIS stores and manages data from all stages of medical procedures and tests. LIS are large software packages designed for high throughput commercial entities, particularly large-scale clinical centers, which are based on patient-centric information (see Figure 1, above). Comprised of multiple packages, these systems often include inventory management, sample accessioning, sample tracking, reporting and potentially other functionality. These systems can be costly and require extensive time to configure and implement, due to their size and complexity.

Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) – LIMS are used to manage the flow of work and information through a laboratory. At their core, they are a series of databases that store information with an interface allowing the system to display information back to the user, via graphical user interface or report.

LIMS typically exist as smaller, streamlined versions of an LIS that capture the core functionality of sample management and workflow processing and have varying degrees of audit and report capabilities. These systems are also more commonly found in testing labs such as core facilities or commercial centers. LIMS take significantly less time and cost to install and customize and offer the benefit of data standardization and integrity because they can be incorporated with instances of automation.

A true LIMs should support samples from initial entry all the way through processing, including metadata, QC, workflow, and processing information. The more mature products can also integrate with other systems, such as a LIS, to promote sample processing in a larger context.

EMR (Electronic Medical Records) – An EMR is much smaller digital version of a patient’s chart as found in a physician’s office. EMR systems often contain all of the health information surrounding a patient (e.g., test results, X-rays, medical history, etc.) and are stored in databases within a major medical center. More advanced medical groups have developed digital eco-systems that can mine EMRs and store patient centric data in other clinical systems.

ELN (Electronic Laboratory Notebook) – Much like an EMR replaces medical charts to capture patient data, the ELN is a software program that replaces the paper laboratory notebook used to capture experimental information. Commonly found in research organizations, ELNs are small software applications, typically part of a larger LIMS, that can connect to other programs for advanced functionality.

We develop BaseSpace Clarity LIMS, which is a LIMS designed specifically for labs using genomics and proteomics technologies. Like the description of LIMS, above, BaseSpace Clarity LIMS enables you to track and manage samples, integrate with a host of common laboratory instruments, such as NGS, qPCR, and microarrays, and automate to eliminate the potential for human error. BaseSpace Clarity LIMS also provides users with a comprehensive application programming interface (API) so that it may be integrated with other systems, such as an EMR or existing LIS.

If you would like more information about what type of informatics tool is right for your lab or you would like to know more about BaseSpace Clarity LIMS, please contact us.

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