Highly consolidated QC materials support EFLM Green Lab Initiative

Consolidated QC materials offer a step forward toward running QC procedures in a smart and highly efficient way

4 Jun 2024
Cameron Smith-Craig
Associate Editor

Highly consolidated QC material decreases costs and improves efficiency while maintaining high analytical performance

Medical laboratories rely on quality control (QC) materials to provide highly reliable test results and ensure patient safety. However, these materials, and the way they are processed in the medical laboratory, can contribute significantly to a laboratory’s energy consumption, consumable use, and waste generation, while also placing considerable demands upon operator’s time.

Due to the initiative of the European Federation of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine (EFLM), the issue of sustainability has become a key focus in clinical laboratories. So far, laboratories have only had a few options to address this situation. A recent study from Ramón y Cajal University Hospital in Madrid, Spain, has shown that using a highly consolidated QC material can have a significant positive impact on lab efficiency and sustainability – without compromising analytical performance.

Consolidated QC materials save workaround, space and time

Several factors can affect the efficiency of a quality control protocol, including the amount of space occupied by controls for storage, the handling time, QC material dead volume, and generated waste. The investigators examined each of these in turn, comparing a mixture of liquid and lyophilized QC material traditionally used in their lab against a highly consolidated purely liquid QC material from Technopath: Multichem®.

The authors of the published study evaluated the QC material for both clinical chemistry tests and immunoassays, obtaining two measurements per day over a period of 10 days. One of the most immediate differences was the number of products required. “In the case of immunoassays, we used all three levels of Technopath QC material, which comes as three tubes in one box,” explains Miriam Menacho-Román, lead author of the study. “In comparison, for our current provider, we had to use ten different products.”

A clear impact of this difference is on the required cold storage space. For clinical chemistry tests, the authors reported a space saving of 52% using Technopath QC materials, while for immunoassays, an impressive 90%.

This saving is significant; freezer and fridge space is at a premium in hospital labs. It also reasonably contributes to electrical energy costs. But perhaps more compelling is the amount of time that can be saved using consolidated QC materials. The authors calculated the average handling time for both test types – including reconstituting controls, labelling cups, pipetting into cups, and loading them into the rack – as four and a half hours with their current QC material. Using the Technopath QC material, the process took remarkably less than two minutes.

“Technopath controls come in a barcoded tube and are ready to use, so can be put into the analyzer directly,” explains Menacho-Román. “This eliminates the need for reconstitution, cup labelling, and the pipetting of controls into cups.”

“We observed a saving of more than three hours in handling the controls for immunoassays and more than one hour for the controls for clinical chemistry,” she continues. “If we extrapolate this over a full year, running the controls every day, this could save a total of 28 eight-hour shifts for immunoassays and 12 shifts for clinical chemistry tests.”

By streamlining handling steps and reducing the quantity of control material vials required, the authors also suggest that consolidated QC materials can contribute to a higher level of patient safety by decreasing the likelihood of sampling and pipetting errors.

Reduced waste lowers lab costs and environmental impact

In addition to productivity and patient safety benefits, the study found that using consolidated control materials yielded significant reductions in the amount of waste generated. Firstly, the authors calculated the total volume of QC material left over from each run, which for Technopath controls measured 2.5 milliliters, in contrast to the 11.6 milliliters observed with the current provider. While the difference may seem small, “this equates to 79 % of the volume used,” explains Menacho-Román. “Extrapolating this over one year, with the Technopath control, the volume saving is more than 500 milliliters, which is equivalent to more than eight boxes of the current controls. All this dead volume must be accounted for, as it ends up as biological waste.”

The total waste of consumables generated from conventional quality control material (left) far exceeds that of the Technopath control material (right)

As well as QC material wastage, the researchers also evaluated the quantity of consumables used, including vials and stoppers, tips, and cups. For immunoassays, Technopath controls used only half the number of vials compared to conventional controls. However, the biggest difference came from the rest of the consumables, including tips and cups, which Technopath tubes eliminate the need for entirely.

Minimizing this waste not only has obvious benefits in reducing the environmental impact of hospital labs but may also generate significant cost savings. The study found the reduction of QC material dead volume using Technopath’s ready-to-use vials translated to a 5.4-fold cost saving. Moreover, the disposal costs for consumables were found to be 19.8 times lower with consolidated QC material compared to the lab’s current QC material.

Crucially, all the efficiency gains, cost savings, and sustainability benefits of Technopath’s Multichem® QC material were achieved without sacrificing analytical performance. As highlighted by Menacho-Román et al., this marks a significant advancement toward conducting QC procedures in a very smart and efficient way.