Pursuing Perfection: Insights into Global IQC Practices
In a time when medical laboratory personnel are pushed to their limits, internal quality control and quality management are easy to consider a nuisance. However, these processes are vital to ensure accuracy and precision in the potentially life-saving tests performed in these laboratories. Most High-to-middle-income countries have strict regulations governing quality procedures in medical laboratories, but global standardisation in these areas is lacking. Over 70% of clinical decisions are based on laboratory testing but many clinicians are unaware of the accuracy and precision limitations associated with many of these tests. This places the responsibility on laboratory staff to ensure that all results provided to clinical decision-makers are as true as possible. For this, they rely on IQC and a robust quality management system.
To determine the state of the industry, a report by the International Federation of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine (IFCC) Task Force on Global Laboratory Quality (TF-GLQ) surveyed over 100 IFCC full and affiliate members, receiving responses from 46 countries1. This survey consisted of a series of multiple-choice questions in relation to quality practices in their respective countries.
Findings by IFCC Task Force on Global Laboratory Quality
90% of respondents indicated that quality standards are in use in their country, despite being mandatory in only 46.7% of those countries.
These responses are encouraging showing that at least some level of predefined QC practice is implemented even in countries that do not legislatively mandate the inclusion of quality standards. This also hints that in those countries where it is not mandatory, it may soon become a requirement to adhere to a specified QC system. Nevertheless, in countries where regulatory measures are currently absent, the rigour of the implemented quality control procedures may not be adequate to ensure the accurate reporting of results.
42.5% of respondents indicated that IQC was not run in all laboratories in their country.
These respondents indicated that IQC is run in 50-99% of laboratories in their country. This less encouraging result shows that minimum IQC practices are not implemented globally. However, due to the multiple-choice nature of this survey, it is difficult to determine how drastic this issue is. Although it does raise the question of how these laboratories verify the precision of their results.
66.7% of respondents indicated that they use assay manufacturer quality control material.
This refers to first party quality control materials which are optimised by the manufacturer for use with a specific assay, instrument or method. These controls are often manufactured from the same material as the calibrator, making them less sensitive to subtle changes in performance, allowing them to mask weaknesses in the assay in question and therefore should be considered less effective options than third-party controls. Additionally, ISO15189:2022 encourage the use of third-party controls and require laboratories seeking accreditation that do not use third party controls to provide a sufficient explanation as to why this is the case.
60% of respondents indicated that not all laboratories in their country had written IQC policies and procedures.
This highlights an important aspect of a quality management system. Without written IQC policies and procedures it is almost impossible to standardise the IQC process and corrective action across laboratory staff, never mind on a national scale. Drafting this documentation can be cumbersome, however, many organisations can be contracted to assist with the drafting and implementation of these procedures for laboratories seeking to gain accreditation.
28.6% of respondents reported that manual interpretation of the IQC data was normal practice.
Manual data interpretation also poses challenges to the standardisation of IQC processes. Written IQC policies and procedures are crucial in implementing standard acceptance criteria for IQC results. Manual data interpretation also implements restrictions on the ability to carry out more advanced statistical analysis of the QC data.
The implementation of robust IQC practices is crucial for ensuring the trueness and precision of the results produced by a laboratory. Used correctly, IQC can monitor variability caused by instrumentation and lot changes as well as various other sources of analytical error. ISO15189:2022 provides a thorough framework for designing rigorous IQC policies and procedures, highlighting key areas such as the use of third party QC material, levels of QC material, the frequency at which IQC should be completed, matrix composition, acceptance/rejection criteria and non-conformance procedures. For more information on ISO15189:2022 accreditation, take a look at our educational guide ISO15189:2022 Updates.
The results from this survey conducted by IFCC show a clear disparity between IQC processes around the globe, displaying differences in requirements, recommendations, and legislation. Standardisation of IQC is not without its challenges. However, by striving to achieve the highest possible levels of quality, and following the guidance laid out in ISO15189:2022, laboratories can be confident in the results they provide to clinicians.
Acusera Quality Control
The Acusera range offers unbiased, independent third party quality controls for medical and research laboratories of all shapes and sizes. Our assayed controls are provided with target values for most commercially available analysers, ensuring that your test menu will be covered. With enhanced stability, commutability and consolidation, all our controls are manufactured to provide a clinically relevant challenge to your test method, aiding in ISO15189 accreditation. For more specialist laboratories, our teams are happy to discuss your requirements and help to provide bespoke quality control material, providing an extremely flexible QC range.
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- Wheeler SE, Blasutig IM, Dabla PK, et al. Quality standards and internal quality control practices in medical laboratories: an IFCC global survey of member societies. Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine (CCLM). 2023;0(0). doi:10.1515/cclm-2023-0492