Q: What should a laboratory look for when considering an alternative or complementary EQA scheme?
A: Firstly, make sure the scheme is inspected and accredited to international standards of best practice. It should be accredited to ISO/IEC 17043:2010, which outlines the general requirements for proficiency testing. Accreditation to this level gives scheme participants added confidence that the scheme is fit for purpose.
The frequency of programme reporting is also important, the more frequent the better. Some international schemes offer both bi-weekly and monthly reporting enabling identification of errors sooner. It also means laboratories will cover the clinical range sooner. Some schemes can turn around reports within 24-72 hours meaning corrective action can also be implemented with minimal effect on lab operations.
In summary, a good EQA scheme should have:
• A sufficient number of scheme participants.
• Flexible programme choices, ideally with the flexibility to customise the programme to suit the laboratory’s unique requirements.
• Effective consolidation of programmes (see comment on multi-analyte programmes above)
• Quality material – you should be provided with ‘blind’ samples that can be analysed as if they were patient samples, effectively monitoring bias. Analytes should come in a realistic range of concentrations, allowing assessment of normal and abnormal ranges, and analytical and clinical ranges should be covered.
• Regular reports – bi-weekly preferably or at least once a month, with a rapid turnaround of resulting reports.
• An independent advisory panel, to ensure the scheme is conducted in a professional and ethical way.
Q: Is bigger really better?
A: When it comes to EQA this is definitely true. The more laboratory participants the scheme has, the wider the range of methods and instruments covered, increasing statistical validity as a result. International schemes will generally offer bigger peer groups which increases the representation of manufacturer’s instruments and diagnostic kits.
Follow the company website link for further information on the RIQAS scheme, or click on the 'request information' tab below.