External Quality Assessment (EQA) / Proficiency Testing (PT) allows for a comparison of a laboratory’s testing procedures to other laboratories across the world. Comparisons can be made to a peer group of laboratories or to a reference laboratory.
EQA involves running blind patient-like samples, comparing your results to peer results, in order to retrospectively monitor the accuracy of reporting. EQA samples should be treated as if they were a patient sample and therefore must be run by personnel who would normally use the device. This provides confidence in the reliability of patient test results.
EQA provides assurance to both staff and customers that testing taking place at your laboratory provides accurate and reliable results. Problems can be identified early on and corrective action can be untaken. The reliability of methods, materials, and equipment can be evaluated and training can be developed and its impact monitored.
Large laboratory groups can compare their performance with sites across their group, ensuring accuracy and consistency no matter where testing takes place.
EQA participation is often a requirement for accreditation, gaining accreditation alone has a host of benefits, not least an increased confidence in results from customers, current and potential.
Read more about accreditation: ‘The Importance of Meeting ISO 15189 Requirements’.
Point of care testing (POCT) refers to testing that is performed near or at the site of a patient with the result leading to a possible change in the care of the patient. The popularity and demand for POCT has recently seen rapid growth, this comes from the advantages including the added convenience of being able to obtain a rapid result at the patient’s bedside, thus allowing immediate action, saving time and improving the potential outcome for the patient.
Although there are many benefits of using POCT devices in terms of their convenience, these benefits are only true if the results produced are both accurate and reliable. Ensuring accuracy and reliability is the primary responsibility of Quality Control.
EQA is strongly recommended for all point of care devices and is recommended by ISO 22870, which providesspecific requirements applicable to point-of-care testing and is intended to be used in conjunction with ISO 15189.
There are many External Quality Control schemes that come in different varieties. EQA schemes can be mandatory, required either by accreditation or law. Others are voluntary and carried out by laboratories who want to ensure that they are carrying out accurate testing and improve the quality of the lab’s performance .
A good EQA scheme should offer:
EQA is a great tool for comparing against a peer group and maintaining an effective QC strategy, however, it has its limitations.
EQA / PT alone cannot provide a complete evaluation alone; it is important to also run third party controls regularly. You can find out about the importance of third party controls here.
EQA results can also be affected by variables not relating to patient samples, including preparation, clerical functions, matrix effects, and selection of method. The errors can appear to be a downside to EQA but it can be used as a way to evaluate staff performance as well as assay performance.
If possible, every laboratory should participate in an EQA scheme that covers all testing procedures. Laboratories need to develop a management process with the objective to assure that EQA samples are treated appropriately and in the same manner. This includes, sample handling, sample analysis, record keeping, investigating deficiencies, taking corrective actions, and communicating results with laboratory staff and management.
Problems at any stage of sample analysis can cause errors, when an error does happen, all elements of the process need to be checked. Some examples of errors:
• Incorrect sample handling during preparation, shipping or storage
• Improper storage
• The material has expired
• An error in manufacturing
• Instrument, calibration or reagent defects
• Staff competency
• Matrix effects
• Incorrect analysis method
• Report misinterpretation
• Clerical or transcription errors
• Failure to take corrective action
• Where possible, all laboratories should participate in an EQA scheme for all tests that they perform.
• EQA samples should be treated in the same way as a patient sample, using the same procedures, instruments, methods, and staff who normally perform the testing.
• EQA provides valuable resources and data to effectively maintain accurate and reliable results and should be seen as educational.
Randox offers RIQAS, the largest EQA scheme in the world with over 45,000 participants across 133 countries, offering 33 consolidated programmes. Randox also offers a range of over 90 molecular programmes for infectious disease testing with Quality Control for Molecular Diseases (QCMD).
Features and Benefits
RIQAS Point of Care
 WHO, Overview of External Quality Assessment (EQA). World Health Organisation, 2009.
 ISO 15189:2012 Medical laboratories — Requirements for quality and competence, 3rd ed. ISO, 2014.
 ISO 22870:2016 Point-of-care testing (POCT) — Requirements for quality and competence, 2nd ed. ISO, 2016.
RIQAS Point of Care
Quality control has recently become crucial in the Point-of-Care (POC) field due to the introduction of ISO 22870 regulations and increased focus in patient safety. Quality control is critical in reducing turnaround time and saving money.
There is now an international standard specifically for POC testing, ISO 22870. This standard is intended to be used in conjunction with the standard for medical laboratories, ISO 15189. This means that aspects relating to Point-of-Care such as training, competence and documentation should be carefully planned, implemented and governed by a quality management system and there is a requirement for QC and EQA to be performed, where available.
POCT is typically carried out by non-laboratory staff, therefore when selecting the appropriate IQC material for POCT there are a number of key characteristics you must consider;
- Format of the material – QC material employed should be liquid stable, requiring no preparation, reducing the likelihood of human error and increasing convenience.
- Value assignment – all values must be accurately assigned. Look out for suppliers who use a large number of independent labs to determine the target value.
- Third party controls – manufactured independently from any specific instrument or method third party controls are designed to deliver unbiased performance assessment.
- Storage – for convenience controls should be liquid stable, as these can be easily stored in a fridge at 2oC – 8oC and won’t need to be shipped on dry ice.
- Stability – a control with a good open vial stability will mean that it can be used for longer with less waste produced, meaning it is more convenient for the medical professional to use.
- Transportation– the liquid stable controls can be conveniently stored at 2oC – 8oC reducing the need to ship on dry ice
- Minimal training– easy to use with little training required, therefore suitable for use by non-laboratory personnel
In addition to IQC, External Quality Assessment (EQA) must also be employed to ensure a comprehensive review of test system performance. It is best to select a programme that offers frequent reporting with a large database of users. This will enable rapid error identification and ultimately accurate and reliable patient testing.
Our Acusera liquid ready-to-use controls include:
- Blood Gas Control– A liquid stable control provided in easy to open ampoules for added convenience and ease-of-use. Assayed, method specific target values are provided for the most common blood gas instruments.
- Liquid Cardiac Control– This is a highly convenient liquid stable cardiac control offering excellent consistency. Assayed, instrument specific target values are provided for 8 cardiac markers, enabling flexibility and consolidation.
- Liquid Urinalysis Control– Liquid control that is compatible for use with both manual and automated methods of dipstick analysis. Available in convenient 12ml vials or 25ml dropper bottles with assayed ranges provided for 13 parameters covering the chemical examination of urine specimens.
- Liquid HbA1c Control– This is another highly convenient liquid ready-to-use control. With an open vial stability of 30 days, keeping waste and costs to a minimum.
Complementary EQA programmes are also available to meet the needs of ISO 22870.
Point-of-Care Testing (POCT)
The Point-of-Care testing market, better known as POCT, is growing rapidly as the demand for faster patient testing increases. This point is fully backed up through the results of the recent BIVDA (British IN-Vitro Diagnostics Association) survey of 2016. This survey focuses primarily on Point-of-Care Testing and there were a few questions asked that sparked an interest amongst us. The questions can be seen below;
“What are the challenges you face regarding POCT?”
“What do you see in the future for POCT?” (BIVDA, 2016)
Although many answers were put forward there was one (answer) that appeared for both questions. Accreditation. We found this intriguing yet far from surprising. POCT and accreditation go hand-in-hand, with laboratories striving to achieve ISO accreditation with the ultimate aim of allowing patients to have peace of mind that they are being tested properly and effectively.
The ISO standard that relates to POCT is ISO 22870:2006 Point of Care Testing- Requirements for quality and competence. This standard gives specific requirements applicable to POCT testing and apply when POCT is carried out in a hospital, clinic or a healthcare organisation providing ambulatory care. However, it is important to note and remember that ISO 22870 is not to be seen as a separate, standalone document, in fact, it is to be used in conjunction with ISO 15189:2012 (medical laboratories – particular requirements for quality & competence).
With accreditation in POCT becoming a major factor to laboratories, it is no surprise to see accreditation as one of the top answers to the two questions asked in the survey.
For laboratories looking to participate in point-of-care testing there are other factors of ISO 22870 that they must be aware of, one of the major factors is as follows;
“ISO 22870:2006 advises that where available, Internal Quality Control and participation in an External Quality Assessment (EQA) scheme is required in the point-of-care setting.”
How can Randox help?
Fortunately for laboratories, Randox are able to help out here. With a vast range of true third party controls and 32 comprehensive RIQAS (EQA) programmes, Randox can aid laboratories as they aim for ISO accreditation.
We have multiple products particularly suited to the POCT market including, Liquid Cardiac, Blood Gas and Urinalysis. These products are available both as internal quality controls and as EQA programmes.
Our Acusera range of true third party controls are conveniently supplied liquid ready-to-use, therefore requiring no preparation. This is a particular advantage in the POC environment were test results are required quickly and also were testing is not always performed by laboratory personnel. Supplied with assayed target values and manufactured from 100% human material, ensuring they act in the same manner as a patient sample, our Acusera controls are ideal for use at the point of care and will therefore aid a laboratory in gaining ISO accreditation.
Similarly, participation in our RIQAS EQA programme will also assist laboratories to meet regulatory requirements and achieve ISO accreditation. With over 40,000 laboratory participants in 123 countries, RIQAS is the largest international EQA scheme worldwide! Our Liquid Cardiac, Blood Gas and Urinalysis programmes are all supplied liquid ready-to-use, complementing their Acusera counterparts perfectly!