I’ve been thinking about chromatography laboratory workflows and imagining myself as a sample to be characterized. Will the scientists in the lab be able to unravel me?
Complexities of Sample Handling in the Lab
From a sample perspective in a typical environmental lab (Wikipedia link), the workflow is very complex. Samples come in, are logged into a Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS), and transferred to sample preparation where they are aliquoted for delivery and characterization by many different testing techniques.
One incoming sample can be turned into a test sample aliquot for microbiology, organic, and inorganic lab tests. That sample can then be divided again for anion, cation, metals, and DBP analyses within the organic lab alone. Similar aliquot divisions and sample preparations for multiple numbers of tests may be carried out in each of the other labs as well.
From my perspective as the original sample coming in for analysis, I am divided, handled and moved so much I worry. At the end of all the dividing, sample preparation, and chromatographic analyses steps, will my entire makeup be combined correctly to show my true character? Nicole Nelson states in Five Common Mistakes in Lab Labeling (link to Lab Manager web article), “Now is the time to implement a productive labeling system that accounts for the flow and processes of your lab—both for today and for tomorrow. The integrity of your data and the quality of your services depend on it.”
Are Sample Labeling Errors Common?
Every time that first incoming sample is placed in a new container within this workflow, there is the possibility that a labeling error will occur. (Case in point: check out the handwritten labels in the first figure above.) When 350 scientists were surveyed for the whitepaper, Error reduction through lab labeling (link to register for whitepaper pdf), nearly 60% reported having occasionally lost samples due to label failure. As of April 29, 2014, clinical labs (Wikipedia link) are required to implement AUTO 12-A (Dark Daily article web link), a standard for bar code labeling.
The standard (link to sample PDF) identifies the required human-readable elements to appear on specimen labels and specifies the exact location, fonts, and font size of these elements. Section1.5 is specific to Aliqouts, Daughter Tubes, and Other Derivative Specimens, and states “ There are other samples within the laboratory (mass spectrometry) in which derivative specimens (vials) may be prepared…. It is expected that laboratories using derivative specimens with limited label space have an established and auditable procedure that prevents labeling errors.
Sample Identification and Integrity Tracking Challenges
Every laboratory struggles with sample identification and integrity tracking throughout the workflow. For small labs with a handful of samples daily to large high throughput labs, keeping track of samples and labeling is often done by hand. This method can lead to transcription errors, illegible handwriting, and smeared and smudged labels due to contact with lab solvents. Without a clear legible label, sample integrity is lost. Michael Noble MD FRCPC at the University of British Columbia in the Resident Quality Seminar Series (link to seminar slides) provides a thorough examination of the cost of a laboratory error, which is estimated at 1 to 3 per 5000 samples.
Like what you are learning?
Sample vials are everywhere in chromatography labs. The time scientists spend transferring sample information onto each chromatography vial is significant but now can be automated using a chromatography vial labeling system (Thermo Scientific Virtuoso Vial Identification System), we introduced a couple of years ago.
This system enables users to automatically label their chromatography vials thus improving the quality of the information contained on the vials resulting in improved integrity, accuracy, legibility and durability of vial labeling.
Speaking as a sample, I want you to implement this system so you can really know me. Watch this 1.26 minute video explaining how this vial labeling system works.
And, finally here is a really cool online calculator that will help you calculate your annual savings when switching from manual vial labeling to using the automated Virtuoso Vial Identification System.
Cost Calculator for Manual Versus Automated Vial Labeling (link to online tool)
Share with us your sample handling challenges in the Comments box below!