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EasyLIMS - laboratory data management.

EasyLIMS -- Laboratory Data Management

The single product of all laboratories is information. The task of each laboratory is to gather data from a wide variety of instrumental and non-instrumental techniques, then organize and interpret the data into useful information for the benefit of the organization. The timeliness and quality of the data collection, translation of data into information, and dissemination of reports to the appropriate person is crucial in today's competitive marketplace.

Regardless of the industry (chemical, environmental, pharmaceutical, medical, electronics, bioresearch, etc.), all laboratories need a means of tracking samples, organizing work, entering and storing data and providing results in a format meaningful to their charter. All laboratories use a laboratory information management system, but these systems are frequently based on paper and forms. Traditionally, paper systems have provided a format that is easy to use, flexible, and, on the surface, very inexpensive.

There are several inherent problems with paper systems: 'free-formatting' of information can cause confusion or misinterpretation of data; misplacement of forms can cause lost productivity and a loss of respect by in-house or external clients; disorganized sample records can cause increased sample turnaround time. However, the greatest disadvantage of paper systems is the time spent organizing the data into information via meaningful reports in a variety of formats. Periodic reports, trend analysis, graphical charts, etc. are very time consuming, if not impossible, with a paper system. Yet this is the service that labs are expected to provide.

Computer-based Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) were developed to make data handling more efficient, accurate, and secure than the traditional paper systems. LIMS offer an efficient means of providing answers to frequently asked questions. It is far easier and faster to use a computer to determine sample status, results and to print a report than it is to track down paperwork, compile it, and then have it manually typed.

LIMS were feasible only for large laboratories because of their high capital and resource investment. Generally, these LIMS required a mini- or mainframe computer to operate, a long implementaton period, involvement of MIS personnel, and a dedicated system manager. These factors made LIMS inaccessible to most small- to medium-sized laboratories.

Today, the availability of faster and more powerful microcomputers (personal computers), at a relatively low cost, brings LIMS within reach of any laboratory. As the trend for scientific instrumentation to rely more on computerization increases, and as personal computers for administrative purposes proliferate, many laboratories find that they may already have an integral component for a LIMS. All that is necessary is to acquire the LIMS software to operate on the existing personal computers.

EasyLIMS software from Beckman is an advanced, full-function LIMS which operates on suitable IBM PC or PS/2 computers under the DOS operating system. It is completely integrated with Microsoft Windows, providing a mouse-driven 'point and click' mode of interaction with the software. This interface accelerates user acceptance and implementation of the software in the laboratory. The Microsoft Windows environment permits users to run several applications simultaneously; people work in a manner most comfortable to them.

EasyLIMS is offered in two configurations. The first is a single-user version operating on the personal computer. The second is a network version which cooperates in a local area network (LAN) employing Novell NetWare software as the link.

By its nature, LIMS is a technology used by many different departments and many different types of laboratory personnel. In most cases, it is desirable to permit only those functions to the user which correspond to their tasks in the laboratory. EasyLIMS utilizes nine levels of hierarchical security assigned and maintained in the password table by the system administrator. User accounts in the password table are created, deleted, or modified with user codes, passwords and full-user names. At the sign-on step, EasyLIMS automatically verifies the existence of a proper user record and checks the assigned security level before the sign-on process is completed. The security features of Novell NetWare are added when EasyLIMS is implemented in a Novell network.

As a full-function LIMS, EasyLIMS facilitates the flow of information to, through, and from the laboratory efficiently and accurately. The software provides the ability to log routine and non-routine samples or requests into the system. It monitors the status of all samples being processed by the laboratory, prints labels, and, if needed, creates work lists sorted on a variety of criteria (identification of responsible analyst, priority, or test). Once the tests have been performed, EasyLIMS will record the analytical results and be able to generate an array of reports.

The 'point and paint' report generator is one of the most useful and unique EasyLIMS features. This report generator presents an electronic page to the user who selects the appropriate textual and database fields desired for reporting through a windows browse function. Next, the user 'points' the selected item at the desired position on the electronic page, and the 'paints' the field with a click of a mouse. Virtually any report can be easily defined in a matter of minutes by casual and regular users.

Flexibility and adaptability to a given laboratory is achieved by the maintenance of a complete system of data tables organizing all laboratory information. Information relating to product or sample types, test definitions, instruments, customers and users can all be easily created and updated by authorized users and stored centrally for frequent use.

In addition, many elements of the software are user-definable. For example, if a laboratory prefers to call incoming samples as 'work number' or 'specimen number', then the software can be user modified for on-screen display. These flexible system components allow users to define and adapt EasyLIMS to meet their local laboratory procedures while still remaining within the standard structure of a highly functional and supportable product.

Beyond its ability to provide sample and data management, EasyLIMS is also equipped with an integrated analysis module called General Data Analysis (GDA). GDA is a tool set which includes a relational database, SQL facility, spreadsheet, statistical analysis, and 3-dimensional presentation graphics. An export function transfers EasyLIMS data to the GDA module where it can be further manipulated, analyzed, plotted, or merged with other laboratory data or applications. GDA can be a management and decision support tool for the laboratory by producing management reports and graphs to transform laboratory data into useful information.

Cost accounting information can be easily derived as a natural by-product of EasyLIMS. This minimizes administrative paperwork and streamlines the generation of customer invoices or charge reports. If so defined, an accounting charge number can be associated with each sample of work number at sample registration. Similarly, a fixed cost may be specified with the definition of each test. These time and cost values may be combined under the usual formulas to to compute total testing costs. Detailed and customized format invoices, reflecting the cost of conducting tests for internal or external clients, can be produced using the 'point and paint' report generator.

In conclusion, EasyLIMS provides comprehensive LIMS functionality to automate most types of laboratories using industry standard hardware and network software. The design and user-interface offers easy and intuitive operation for implementation and use by personnel with differing degrees of computer experience. Its modular design permits expansion as requirements, confidence and budgets allow.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Chemical Institute of Canada
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:software
Author:Chew, Leon
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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