Why is biomarker testing in pathology so important?
What is External Quality Assessment?
External quality assessment (EQA) is a way for laboratories to challenge or self-check their testing processes by comparing their results to an external source. This comparison can be made in a number of different ways. Another name, often used interchangeably, is proficiency testing; however, EQA can also be carried out in different ways.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines EQA as a system for objectively checking the laboratory’s performance using an external agency or facility and identifies three common processes:
- Proficiency testing―external provider sends unknown samples for testing to a set of laboratories, and the results of all laboratories are analyzed, compared, and reported to the laboratories.
- Rechecking or retesting―slides that have been read are rechecked by a reference laboratory; samples that have been analyzed are retested, allowing for inter-laboratory comparison.
On-site evaluation―usually done when it is difficult to conduct traditional proficiency testing or to use the rechecking/retesting method.
Another method of inter-laboratory comparison is the exchange of samples among a set of laboratories, usually reserved for specialized tests for which no proficiency testing is available.
What are the benefits of EQA?
EQA programs provides valuable information which:
- allows laboratory self-checking and comparison of performance to other laboratories;
- provides early warning system for possible problems with tests, processes or operations;
- provides insights into test results among different test sites;
- allows continuous improvement and can highlight areas needing attention;
- identifies training needs.
EQA helps to assure the users of the test results such as doctors, patients, and health authorities, that the laboratory can produce reliable test results.
Laboratories can self-check and take appropriate corrective action, if needed.
Data collected from EQA helps to evaluate reliability of methods, materials, and equipment, and to evaluate and monitor the impact of training.
EQA can help to assure that results from different laboratories are comparable.
EQA participation is usually required for accreditation, although this differs between countries.
Importantly, EQA participation creates a network for communication, and forum for discussion of quality issues and a source for conducting continuing education activities. Hence the role of IQN Path!