Does Your LIMS Support Notifications?

Introduction
In the process of investigating LIMS, one question that always arises is this “Does your LIMS support notifications?”  Clearly prompt awareness by the right people of key events in the processing of laboratory workflow is a vital element in improved performance metrics, primarily turn-around time. Unnecessary and sometimes costly delays are a constant hazard when communication depends upon a manual process. Fortunately in today’s marketplace of mature LIMS, the answer will inevitably be “Yes.”  However, as with most LIMS features, there is a world of significant detail hidden in that seemingly simple question and answer.  This white paper addresses some of those details in an attempt to improve user awareness of these topics:

  • Events of Interest
  • Notification Contents
  • Avoiding Overload
  • Notify the Right People
  • Method of Notification

Events of Interest
A wide variety of notifications are possible in a comprehensive LIMS implementation. Some examples might be:

  • Notify “customer” and/or lab scheduler on logging or receipt of test request / sample.
  • Notify analyst, reviewer or approver of new test requests / samples in their task backlog.
  • Notify QC personnel of pending lot release.
  • Notify QC personnel of out-of-spec result or of violation of a control chart rule for unknowns or lab standards.
  • Notify “customer” of final release of results.
  • Notify collector of approaching collection for periodic samples (e.g. environmental monitoring).
  • Notify instrument maintenance of approaching calibration/pm/validation for instrument or of assignment to instrument related task.
  • Notify lab supervisor of approaching or pending requirement for personnel training.
  • Notify personnel of assigned CAPA step to be performed.
  • Notify inventory management personnel of low inventory or approaching expiration for reagents and standards.
  • Notify stability study personnel of pending pulls for testing.
  • Deliver a periodic lab performance report.

When evaluating a LIMS, the customer would be best served by compiling a list of notifications that are most important to their particular lab performance, and investigating candidate LIMS features in greater detail to insure a real payoff.

Notification Contents
The information content of notifications is vital to their effectiveness.  For maximum effectiveness, standard notification contents should be data driven, containing only the appropriate parameters for the particular item.  For example, a sample message should provide multiple helpful parameters besides the sample identification (e.g. product, lot number, collection id, customer, etc.) but only when applicable to that sample. It is also important to allow custom configuration of the messages, possibly with a token based message formulator allowing the insertion of any data value.  Finally, the ability to include a report as a message attachment is often critical to effectiveness (e.g. final results notification to customer with attached COA). Once again, don’t hesitate to insure you will get adequate message content with your LIMS.  Seeing is believing.

Avoiding Overload
Messaging can readily overload the receiver and be abandoned altogether. To avoid this, features that issues a message only for exceptions (e.g. receipt of a sample that is damaged, logging of a high priority sample, lab QC violation, etc.) are critical. You should also be able to set the frequency of repeating messages for conditions such as instruments requiring calibration.

Notify the Right People
Features to insure the right recipient of any message are also vital to effectiveness.  For example, messages about problems with method execution should be configurable at the method level, not the sample type or system level, as they are method specific. A mechanism to provide configuration of messages at the level of role or group level rather than individual, can be a powerful tool in directing messages properly.  Then the message can be sent to the person filling that role for a specific testing request or sample, or to the address used by the group.  Addressing mechanisms should avoid redundant storage of e-mail addresses by reference to master records for customers, clients, vendors and LIMS users. Finally, distribution lists are a powerful tool to effectively route notifications and avoid redundancy in the configuration.

Method of Notification
The most common notification method is via e-mail, but useful alternatives include texting messages, a fax or print to a printer (yes, people still do that). In many cases a very effective method would provide an alert pop-up on the appropriate user screen. These capabilities can make the difference between in the payoff of notifications.

As you can see, there can be a world of significant detail behind the question “Does your LIMS support notifications?”  The LIMS purchaser would do well to insure that the proposed solution will indeed deliver value in their particular usage without a lifelong burden of cumbersome configuration.