Quality Indicators in Laboratory Medicine: the status of the progress of IFCC Working Group “Laboratory Errors and Patient Safety” project

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The knowledge of error rates is essential in all clinical laboratories as it enables them to accurately identify their risk level, and compare it with those of other laboratories in order to evaluate their performance in relation to the State-of-the-Art (i.e. benchmarking) and define priorities for improvement actions. Although no activity is risk free, it is widely accepted that the risk of error is minimized by the use of Quality Indicators (QIs) managed as a part of laboratory improvement strategy and proven to be suitable monitoring and improvement tools. The purpose of QIs is to keep the error risk at a level that minimizes the likelihood of patients. However, identifying a suitable State-of-the-Art is challenging, because it calls for the knowledge of error rates measured in a variety of laboratories throughout world that differ in their organization and management, context, and the population they serve. Moreover, it also depends on the choice of the events to keep under control and the individual procedure for measurement. Although many laboratory professionals believe that the systemic use of QIs in Laboratory Medicine may be effective in decreasing errors occurring throughout the total testing process (TTP), to improve patient safety as well as to satisfy the requirements of International Standard ISO 15189, they find it difficult to maintain standardized and systematic data collection, and to promote continued high level of interest, commitment and dedication in the entire staff. Although many laboratories worldwide express a willingness to participate to the Model of QIs (MQI) project of IFCC Working Group “Laboratory Errors and Patient Safety”, few systematically enter/record their own results and/or use a number of QIs designed to cover all phases of the TTP. Many laboratories justify their inadequate participation in data collection of QIs by claiming that the number of QIs included in the MQI is excessive. However, an analysis of results suggests that QIs need to be split into further measurements. As the International Standard on Laboratory Accreditation and approved guidelines do not specify the appropriate number of QIs to be used in the laboratory, and the MQI project does not compel laboratories to use all the QIs proposed, it appears appropriate to include in the MQI all the indicators of apparent utility in monitoring critical activities. The individual laboratory should also be able to decide how many and which QIs can be adopted. In conclusion, the MQI project is proving to be an important tool that, besides providing the TTP error rate and spreading the importance of the use of QIs in enhancing patient safety, highlights critical aspects compromising the widespread and appropriate use of QIs.

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