How ARUP Labs improved quality and productivity with the PCS
Spreading calibration responsibilities to individual groups, each with their own PCS, and standardizing processes greatly increased the efficiency of keeping ARUP’s >1,500 pipettes calibrated.
Because the effort to standardize pipette calibration methods led to standardization across the entire quality process, their overall system became more effective and productive.
Savings with Less Re-runs
With regularly calibrated pipettes and properly-trained pipette users, ARUP needed to re-run fewer tests, saving money by reducing solvent and reagent use, time, and labor.
Because many of ARUP Labs’ 2,000-plus clinical tests and test combinations are extremely sensitive, and results often determine patient diagnoses and treatment regimens, accurate and precise pipetting is critical, especially when working with low volumes. Thus, regular pipette calibration has always been an important part of their quality control system.
The Reagent Lab was responsible for calibrating all 1,500 pipettes, but they were often confronted with a backlog of pipettes, especially at the end of the quarter since most groups needed quarterly calibrations.
In addition, there was little standardization of calibration methods and even pipette naming across the different groups, complicating calibration and contributing to the backlog.
To remedy these issues, ARUP decentralized pipette calibration and installed multiple PCS instruments throughout its facility.
In addition, they standardized calibration methodologies, procedures, and pipette nomenclature, with a single specific SOP for each pipette type.
As a result, overall quality improved, leading to a reduced need for test re-runs, saving time, labor, and reagents costs.
The challenges with a centralized pipette calibration process
ARUP Laboratories (Salt Lake City, UT), a national clinical and anatomic pathology reference laboratory, offers more than 2,000 clinical tests and test combinations, ranging from routine screening tests to highly esoteric molecular and genetic assays. Because many of the tests are extremely sensitive and results often determine patient diagnoses and treatment regimens, accurate and precise pipetting, especially when working with low volumes, is an important component of their quality program.
To ensure liquid handling quality, most departments at ARUP had their pipettes calibrated quarterly, with the ARUP reagent lab handling the calibrations. However, the reagent lab often confronted a backlog of pipettes and experienced challenges in handling uneven workflow.
“Since most departments specified quarterly calibration intervals, calibration requests would peak and overload the lab at the end of each quarter,” said Jeff Howard, ARUP Quality Specialist.
Another difficulty with this centralized approach was that, although the actual calibration was performed by the reagent lab, each individual department was responsible for the cleaning, maintenance, and calibration frequency of its pipettes as well as setting tolerance limits associated with different pipette types. Different departments even had different data requirements, naming conventions, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the same type of pipette.
ARUP Quality Specialist
Decentralizing pipette calibration improved efficiency as well as quality
To remedy these issues, ARUP decentralized pipette calibration and installed multiple PCS instruments throughout its facility. To facilitate and oversee its decentralized approach, ARUP created an Artel Users Group, bringing together quality control staff from across the organization.
The Users Group standardized calibration methodology, frequency, tolerance limits, nomenclature, and SOP, so that, for example, a particular type of pipette with a range of 20 – 200 µL is calibrated quarterly at three volumes (20 µL, 100 µL, 200 µL) with defined tolerance limits for accuracy and precision.
The push for standardization had the unexpected benefit of raising awareness about the need to train users in proper pipetting technique. Since the PCS provides immediate feedback on pipetting performance—a 10-data-point calibration complete with documentation can be completed in less than three minutes—errors in accuracy and precision stemming from variability in technique are quickly apparent. This immediate feedback allows trainees to see the positive impact of minimal changes in technique.
“Even for technical staff who don’t use pipettes daily, merely having them go through this training significantly raises awareness about the relationship between pipetting technique and quality,” said Zachary Wilkey, Quality Specialist at ARUP. “That fits with the overall goal of the Artel Users Group: to standardize our quality procedures throughout the organization and make quality a priority.”
ARUP Quality Specialist
Improving quality is also good business
Decentralization and standardization of pipette calibration procedures also saved ARUP money. With well-calibrated pipettes and pipette users trained in proper pipetting technique, they saw fewer run failures over time, minimizing material waste, such as expensive solvents and reagents, and saving time and labor allocated to re-running tests.
“Quality is a goal in its own right,” said Howard, “but there is also a strong business case for maintaining high standards.”
About ARUP Laboratories
ARUP Laboratories is a national clinical and anatomic pathology reference laboratory and an enterprise of the University of Utah and its Department of Pathology.
With 2,700 employees, ARUP offers more than 2,000 tests and test combinations, ranging from routine screening tests to highly esoteric molecular and genetic assays, for patients throughout the country. Rather than competing with its clients for physician office business, ARUP chooses instead to support clients’ existing test menus by offering highly complex and unique tests, with accompanying consultative support, to enhance their abilities to provide local and regional laboratory services.
ARUP’s clients include more than half of the nation’s university teaching hospitals and children’s hospitals, as well as multihospital groups, major commercial laboratories, group purchasing organizations, military and government facilities, and major clinics. In addition, ARUP is a worldwide leader in innovative laboratory research and development, led by the efforts of the ARUP Institute for Clinical and Experimental Pathology®. Further information on ARUP Laboratories can be found at www.aruplab.com.