Experiments and various researches still keep helping us to expand our scientific knowledge and improve numerous businesses related to agriculture, healthcare, farming, waste control, food and water testing, drug trials, and many more. There are so many laboratories all over the world and they all contribute greatly to the future of our planet.
Thousands of professional researchers conduct various experiments, analyze samples, compare results and make science-driven conclusions on a daily basis. Can you imagine that a huge part of all that complex information is kept in paper format in dozens of folders? It may sound unrealistic, but unfortunately not all laboratories have a decent software able to keep all data in electronic format and provide easy access to it whenever it is needed. Although first laboratory management software appeared long ago (namely in 1982 when labs got minicomputers with reporting tools and experienced automation for the first time), nowadays there is still a need to digitalize many of them.
So in this article we would like to share with you a bunch of information about laboratories automation, LIMS software, how it works and optimizes processes, and how to integrate it in your laboratory. This article will be of use to the laboratories that are related to the healthcare industry and perform medical research. We will describe all benefits that LIMS software can bring and how to choose or develop a proper solution able to meet all your laboratory and business needs.
What is LIMS software?
Basically LIMS is a laboratory information management system aimed to support and automate many routine laboratory operations. It is rather complex software able to process huge loads of data, store it and provide easy access to it as well. However, the main purpose of all LIMS software is to help its users perform:
- Easy sample management;
- Data management, mining and analysis;
- Notes making and editing (thanks to built-in electronic laboratory notebook – ELN);
- Fast and simple transfer of data between the laboratories;
- Automatic reporting;
- Creating advanced analytic charts and tables;
- Workload monitoring and management;
- Supplies and resources management, and many more.
Each laboratory information management system can have a set of features that is crucial for a specific company that uses it. The standard feature set can be extended or shortened, some options can be modified or excluded. Everything depends just on the needs and purposes of your laboratory.
One important advantage of any LIMS system is that it can be easily integrated with the software that is already used in the laboratory. It helps to create a more smart environment and take absolutely all processes under centralized control. LIMS also allows to reduce paperwork, address issues that are related to human mistakes and make the integration of new lab employees into the working processes more seamless and efficient.
LIMS for easier sample management
Since many healthcare laboratories work with samples on a daily basis, it is reasonable to focus more on LIMS that is used specifically for advanced sample management. So to begin with, let’s discover the key processes that can be automated and handled by LIMS.
Adding and registering of samples
The first step of working with any sample is its receiving and registering. This allows lab workers to track the sample further and access the information about it anytime. So in case with LIMS every sample receives a special barcode that is generated by a system and contains unique information points like the date when it was received, the name of the patient it is linked to, etc.
Also every LIMS has various groups of users with different access levels to the sample data. So if the lab employee has the right to access and manage a certain sample, no other employee can do the same without special permissions.
This is a crucial step of sample management since previously everything was done on paper. But now thanks to LIMS the paperwork is reduced drastically and all documentation is kept in electronic form. Most LIMS have integration with ELN (electronic laboratory notebook) that is quite secure and lets you collect all data in electronic format and provide access to it based on profiles and permissions.
ELN is a great tool since it includes numerous templates of charts and tables, it supports electronic signatures, and also it works perfectly with project and inventory management tools used in a certain laboratory.
It is also necessary to mention that some LIMS have built-in ELNs, while others only let you connect to third-party ones. In terms of security and convenience it is better to have the first type of LIMS at your disposal.
Processing and monitoring of samples
Once a sample got in a laboratory and the employees registered it, the numerous experiments and actions start taking place. So it is crucial to monitor the sample, track its lifecycle and all changes, calculate various indexes and reactions. LIMS can help with all these operations by automating sample tracking.
As to the sample monitoring, usually LIMS has its own geographic information system (GIS) that is responsible for checking the status of the sample and its exact location. It is very convenient, especially if you transport samples from one laboratory to another. The LIMS also is perfect for tracking freezing of samples. So any lab employee can find a necessary sample effortlessly because LIMS can specify its box, row, number, etc.
On top of that, LIMS is capable of checking the instrument’s conditions. IF something is wrong with the equipment, lab workers can get an alert or a reminder that it is time to maintain, repair, or simply calibrate a certain tool that works with samples.
The main advantage of LIMS is that it can integrate reporting and also auditing tools into a certain laboratory workflow which helps to comply with the main healthcare requirements provided by the key healthcare organizations or state laws. Also any LIMS generates the reports according to standards of clinical data interchange and those reports can be used by another lab or healthcare institution. It is a perfect feature for all researches since it gets easier to exchange scientific data and findings.
But what’s more important – the report making process is automated. You need to take minimum action to fill a chart or table thanks to the wide variety of templates.
One more benefit of having a LIMS at your laboratory is that it offers analytical tools and testing options. It is possible to analyze a lot of data related to your laboratory workflow and get a clear understanding of your turnaround, efficiency, performance of your employees and take right financial decisions.
Quality control and exchange of data
LIMS is able to extract the data received by smart instruments while testing the sample and perform quality control and assessment. This process is fully automated and doesn’t need any human control. LIMS will get all necessary data, turn it into graphical format, create advanced charts and select what data to add to them. So as a result the lab employee will receive a chart related to a certain sample and can compare it with other samples or else.
Contemporary LIMS is able to support real-time exchange of data so laboratories can communicate really fast and effective. Also LIMS can exchange the data with EHR systems and central database management systems.
What LIMS features are must-have?
So let’s say you evaluated all benefits of LIMS and decided to implement this software in your laboratory. But where should you start? What features should you definitely add? Do not worry, as we will help you with that.
Although LIMS can be very different, there are some functions that tend to be present in most of such systems. They are:
Some examples of good LIMS
It is understandable that before getting your own LMS system or even developing it you might want to take a look at some others already existing on the market. So we have prepared a couple of great examples for you.
SampleManager – is a perfectly advanced LIMS for managing not only laboratory information, but also the whole workflow of it. It is able to manage data related to samples, tools, equipment, resources and even inventory. It can be integrated with CRM, ERP and other systems or instruments used in your lab. And what’s more important it has central data archival, retrieval, and visualization. Here is a picture demonstrating the main principle of SampleManager work.
Aquarium – it is well known and rather specific LIMS aimed to optimize the workflow of synthetic biology laboratories. If you check out their website it becomes clear that this LIMS is able to perform data and inventory management, estimation of costs, monitoring of research progress, manage access of users to the data and many more. All the reports data that are generated by Aquarium will be stored on cloud service – AWS S3 which is very convenient. It is also very easy to find any sample in the Aquarium system because it has an advanced search. Check out how it looks in the picture below.
Source: Aquarium website
Is custom LIMS development the best choice?
Many owners of laboratories sooner or later think about software optimization. The options are rather obvious – you can either select a ready-made solution and pay for its license, or develop your own custom LIMS suitable for your specific workflow. While the first option is rather convenient and affordable, unfortunately it will not offer such a high customization level like your own solution.
Since the main purpose of any LIMS is to optimize your lab workflow as much as possible, you should identify your core business needs first. Then if you are selecting a solution from the market check its options and analyze if they fit your requirements. Also think about your current performance challenges and if that ready LIMS is able to address them.
Based on our experience we can say that many off-shelf LIMS do not meet the specific requirements of laboratories and lack customization options. It is possible to integrate them with several services and ensure smooth work, however they might lack some specific features that cannot be added.
That is why it is better to develop your own custom solution and hire a reliable team. Here are the specialists that can help you with the custom LIMS development:
- Business Analyst;
- Software Architect;
- Back-end developers;
- Front-end developers;
- QA Engineer;
- Scrum Master.
All those specialists will not only select the right technology stack, build and test your solution, they will also take good care of its UI and UX. Since your LIMS will be used on a daily basis and by numerous lab employees it is crucial to make it intuitive and easy to comprehend. Your system should be both convenient and functional.
Also if you are already using an EHR, ERP or CRM you will need to perform integration of all those systems with your LIMS. So it is better to ask the developers team to check the connectivity, compatibility and other aspects, so that your systems can run and cooperate seamlessly.
On average it may take up to 10 months to develop a good LIMS solution and check its performance. However, this term may depend on your specific laboratory needs since the system may need to include some complex features then.
It is impossible to imagine a modern laboratory without numerous powerful systems. The specifics of lab work and all experiments done to the samples require high-quality solutions for data storage and management. That is why the LIMS system is a must these days. This solution is able to improve the productivity of laboratory, automate samples management, perform complex analytical operations and provide holistic reports.
The right LIMS can boost your business, reduce costs and create a huge smart environment within your laboratory by being integrated with other complex systems like EHR, ERP and CRM. With the LIMS laboratories can easily exchange information, make research more precise and fast and deliver best results. It is crucial to invest in your own LIMS because all ready-made solutions lack customization and may not be a perfect fit for your particular lab and business model.