Analytical performance specifications for external quality assessment - definitions and descriptions

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External Quality Assurance (EQA) is vital to ensure acceptable analytical quality in medical laboratories. A key component of an EQA scheme is an analytical performance specification (APS) for each measurand that a laboratory can use to assess the extent of deviation of the obtained results from the target value. A consensus conference held in Milan in 2014 has proposed three models to set APS and these can be applied to setting APS for EQA. A goal arising from this conference is the harmonisation of EQA APS between different schemes to deliver consistent quality messages to laboratories irrespective of location and the choice of EQA provider. At this time there are wide differences in the APS used in different EQA schemes for the same measurands. Contributing factors to this variation are that the APS in different schemes are established using different criteria, applied to different types of data (e.g. single data points, multiple data points), used for different goals (e.g. improvement of analytical quality; licensing), and with the aim of eliciting different responses from participants. This paper provides recommendations from the European Federation of Laboratory Medicine (EFLM) Task and Finish Group on Performance Specifications for External Quality Assurance Schemes (TFG-APSEQA) and on clear terminology for EQA APS. The recommended terminology covers six elements required to understand APS: 1) a statement on the EQA material matrix and its commutability; 2) the method used to assign the target value; 3) the data set to which APS are applied; 4) the applicable analytical property being assessed (i.e. total error, bias, imprecision, uncertainty); 5) the rationale for the selection of the APS; and 6) the type of the Milan model(s) used to set the APS. The terminology is required for EQA participants and other interested parties to understand the meaning of meeting or not meeting APS.

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