In 2008 the National Laboratory Service (NLS) Microbiology Section at Starcross was asked to take on the testing required by the EU’s 2006 Bathing Water Directive (see EU site) for all bathing beaches in England and Wales.
In the UK over 600 bathing waters are tested at weekly intervals from May to September each year. Combined with their other routine work this considerably increased the laboratory workload to over 37,000 samples per year (average of 150 samples per day). In addition the requirement to provide a rapid test turnaround time (within 24 hours) as well as performing multiple tests at multiple dilutions for each sample (9 dilution plates per sample) meant that the laboratory would not be able to cope with the extra workload (average over 1300 plates per day) without considerably more staff or a change in routine operation.
After some research and investigation into alternative ways of working, the laboratory decided that the way in which sample plates and results were managed and recorded using paper worksheets was the major hurdle in helping the laboratory deliver this extra workload. “Three areas in particular were very demanding of analyst time in our old workflows”, said Martin Walters, Manager of the Microbiology Section, “Labelling and placing related plates so they can be easily found again after incubation, cross checking of results where analysts have to review each others’ work, and the final entry and verification of results to our LIMS system so the results go back to the sample submitter within the permitted time”. So a solution was sought to replace these stages with an electronic alternative. “While conventional computer based solutions offered the ability to record data, we felt that the time taken to use these devices at fixed locations around the laboratory would hinder routine working,” explains Martin, “Consequently we looked around for a handheld computer solution that analysts could use as they performed each of the relevant tasks.” “As CSols had already successfully implemented other software systems across NLS labs we approached them to evaluate the merits of their portable worksheet manager (PWM) solution,” continues Martin.
After a review of the application, the PWM was shown to incorporate the right elements of a solution and so it was decided to extend the software to better suit the microbiology laboratory operation. This solution is now called BactiAnalyst and consists of the following components :-
• Handheld computers (PDAs) from Gotive which incorporate bar code readers and wifi interfaces
• Software for the handheld computers which guides users through the workflow, result capture and so on
• Hub software based on a lab PC to interface with the LIMS
Implementation & workflows
While the actual analysis of the samples remains the same the following steps have been changed to provide significant gains in productivity.
LIMS Worklist download & Labelling plates and checking assignment
No longer do analysts have to print out a worksheet for each day’s samples and laboriously label each sample and dilution plates. Instead the LIMS worklist is electronically downloaded to one of the BactiAnalyst handheld units. As the empty plates have already been labelled with a generic label complete with a unique barcoded identifier, analysts need only link the scheduled samples (loaded into memory) with the barcode identities on each plate. This is done by using the in-built laser reader in the handheld unit.
Reading plates, calculations & AQC checks
The BactiAnalyst software allows analyst to type results directly onto the handheld units screen. The software validates entry and then makes use of the computing facilities of the handheld unit to perform all the presumptive count calculations required. The software has also been adapted to allow the user to quickly assign zero counts to plates with no growth to save time while still auditing all data entry. As all the plates carry a barcode label it is easy to identify and locate them so plates cannot be mixed up and less organisation is required when dealing with so many plates.
The software will also run AQC checks and highlight any issues as defined by laboratory procedures.
LIMS Data entry
Once a worksheet’s worth of samples are complete, it is simply a matter for each analyst press the ‘Send to LIMS’ button on the handheld unit. While the analyst is now free to work on the next batch of samples the BactiAnalyst software sends all the results and audit information electronically (in background)
There have been considerable improvements in productivity at the steps described above. These have been as follows :
Plate assignment and labelling
Taking into account the time it takes to affix the barcode labels to the plates with a gun applicator the overall saving here is 2 man hours per day
Reading plates & Calculations
As the extra verifications steps can be now be dropped the savings here are also 2 man hours per day
This step has the most saving as two analysts were used to verify each others’ work, which is no longer required. Electronic input also eliminates manual data entry.
The savings here are 3 man hours per day.
In addition to the productivity improvements all transcription errors have been eliminated. There are no risks of using the wrong plates, all results are verified upon generation and all calculations are done correctly and consistently. Moreover the handheld unit is being used to collect an entire audit trail including analyst identities, time of sample analysis, calculations, AQC data and data entry times. A recent visit by UKAS gave the system a clean bill of health only asking that a dummy file be used to check the calculations were being performed correctly.
In summary the BactiAnalyst system has allowed the Starcross Microbiology laboratory to perform the analysis required by the Bathing Water Directorate using a laboratory with half the staff it had originally considered. Analysts have been freed from the tedium of the administrative duties, allowing them to process more samples per day. Simple configurations changes made to the software have also meant there has been a chance to easily tune the software to local requirements. In addition CSols is actively developing the software to add new features as well as to address specific sample types including drinking water.
Analysts now are comfortable with routine operation and have successfully run the system for three ‘seasons’ and have had positive UKAS audits.
For further information please contact CSols (details below) or visit our website at http://www.csols.com/
Cheshire WA7 4QZ
Tel: +44 (0) 1928 513535
Fax: +44 (0) 7006 061106
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CSols is a laboratory informatics company, formed in 1990, whose dedicated passion is to maximize your return on investment by improving the effectiveness, productivity and quality of laboratories of all types. In order to deliver those goals we’ve distilled our knowledge and expertise into a range of software products and solutions that go ‘Beyond the Technology’ that is commonly used in today’s sophisticated laboratories to help you. Our products help form a seamless link between sophisticated instruments or laboratory information systems (LIMS) and the laboratory scientist, analyst or technician. CSols solutions help remove the tedium and error rates associated with manual transcription and so maximize the investment in the instrument itself, the reagents used as well as all the laboratory personnel.