VERITAS?: A time for VERIQAS™ and a new approach to training, education, and the quality assessment of CD4+ T lymphocyte counting (I).
BACKGROUND: The aim of clinical laboratories is to produce accurate and reproducible results to enable effective and reliable clinical practice and patient management. The standard approach is to use both internal quality control (IQC) and external quality assessment (EQA). IQC serves, in many instances, as a "go, no go" tool to provide real time assurance that instruments and reagent or test systems are performing within defined specifications. EQA however, takes a snapshot at a specific point in time of the full testing process, results are compared to other laboratories performing similar testing but inevitably has some built in delay from sample issue to performance data review. In addition, if IQC or EQA identify areas of concern it can be difficult to determine the exact nature of the problem. In an attempt to address this problem, we have developed an instant QA panel that we have termed VERIQAS™, specifically for CD4(+) T lymphocyte counting, and have undertaken a "proof of principle" pilot study to examine how the use of VERIQAS™ could result in improvement of laboratory performance. In addition, we have examined how this approach could be used as a training and education tool (in a domestic/international setting) and potentially be of value in instrument validation/switch studies (a switch study being defined as a laboratory changing from one method/instrument to a new method/instrument with the VERIQAS™ panel being used as an adjunct to their standard switch study protocol). METHODS: The basic panel consists of 20 stabilized samples, with predefined CD4(+) T lymphocyte counts, that span low clinically relevant to normal counts, including some blinded replicates (singlet up to quadruplicate combinations). The CD4(+) T lymphocyte target values for each specimen is defined as the trimmed mean ± 2 trimmed standard deviations, where the trimmed values are derived from the CD4(+) T lymphocyte counts reported by the participating centers (~780 laboratories) that receive each UK NEQAS for Leucocyte Immunophenotyping send out. Results for the VERIQAS™ panel were returned online, via a specially designed website, and the participant was provided with an immediate assessment (pass or fail). RESULTS: To date, the panel has been preliminary trialed by eight laboratories to (i) assess pre-EQA qualification (two laboratories); (ii) address performance issues (two laboratories); or (iii) validate new instruments or techniques (four laboratories). Interestingly, even in this pilot study, the panel has been instrumental in identifying specific technical problems in laboratories with EQA performance issues as well as confirming that implementation of new techniques or instruments have been successful. CONCLUSION: We report here a new and novel "proof of principle" pilot study to quality assessment, that we have termed VERIQAS™, designed to provide instant feedback on performance. Participating laboratories receive 20 "blinded" samples that are in singlet up to quadruplicate combinations. Once a centre reports its results via a website, immediate feedback is provided to both the participant and the EQA organizers, enabling, if required, the initiation of targeted remedial action. We have also shown that this approach has the potential to be used as a tool for prequalification, troubleshooting, training and instrument verification. Pilot phase field trials with VERIQAS™ have shown that the panel can highlight laboratory performance problems, such as suboptimal instrument set up, pipetting and gating strategies, in a rapid and efficient manner. VERIQAS™ will now be introduced, where appropriate, as a second phase study within UK NEQAS for Leucocyte Immunophenotyping to assist those laboratories that have performance issues and also made available to laboratories for training and education of staff and instrument validation studies.
Barnett, D; Whitby, L; Wong, J; Louzao, R; Reilly, JT; Denny, TN
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