LIS vs. LIMS: Choosing the Best Laboratory Information System for Clinical Labs
Choosing between a Laboratory Information System (LIS) and a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is a critical decision for clinical diagnostic labs, but there isn’t always a clear answer. The terms “LIS” and “LIMS” are often mistakenly used interchangeably due to their similarities. Both can manage laboratory operations and sample data, but that’s where the similarities end. A system that lacks the capability to thoroughly handle healthcare-related data can have serious implications for clinical labs.
Therefore, it’s crucial to have a deeper understanding of LIS and LIMS functionalities to determine which system best meets the requirements of the lab and prevent making a very costly mistake. This post will lay out the primary differences between LIS and LIMS and explain why a LIS is most often the best choice for clinical labs.
LIS and LIMS: The Fundamental Difference
Let’s start by comparing their fundamental designs: A Laboratory Information System (LIS) is designed specifically for medical laboratory workflows with a focus on samples associated with patient data. In contrast, a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is designed for broad applications, supporting customizable workflows for various sample types for different industries ranging from industrial to environmental to cannabis and beyond. Simply put, LISs are “Patient-Centric”, while LIMS are “Sample-Centric”.
Does it really matter whether the lab system deals with patient samples or not? After all, non-clinical samples like water or pharmaceutical samples need to be tracked and have test results logged just like a clinical blood serum specimen, right? LIMS vendors that offer a clinical testing module suggest that this is true and that they are just as capable as LISs, since clinical labs are “close enough” to non-clinical labs.
This assumption overlooks the many nuances of clinical diagnostics and could prove to be a fatal mistake for clinical labs.
Why a LIMS Falls Short for Clinical Labs
While some LIMS vendors may give the impression that they can support clinical workflows, there are many reasons to be skeptical. The following are some reasons why a LIMS is insufficient for medical labs.
The Complexity of Patient-Centric Data is Unique to Medical Labs
Laboratory information systems (LIS) are designed for clinical settings where patient demographics, complex medical billing requirements (like insurance, medical necessity, diagnosis and procedure coding), and treatment decisions are intertwined. Since patient data is unique to clinical workflows, LIMS aren’t properly equipped to support it.
Too Much Versatility Can Be Detrimental
LISs come with pre-configured clinical workflows. Routine clinical testing procedures are relatively standard versus other industries as determined by healthcare regulating bodies, HIPAA, CLIA, and CAP, so operations don’t vary much from lab to lab. LIMS are built for extensive customization in order to support a broad range of applications. This means that setting up a LIMS for clinical workflows requires configuring potentially thousands of individual analytes, test panels, reference ranges from scratch, equating to additional overhead and expenses versus a LIS which is already set up for clinical workflows.
Healthcare Revenue Cycle Support
Billing operations, otherwise known as Revenue Cycle Management (RCM), is another unique and critical aspect of operating clinical labs. Some labs opt to handle submitting claims in-house while others consult the services of RCM experts and integrate with third-party billing software. Regardless of the preferred method, labs will rely on the LIS to either generate detailed billing reports, ensure that proper information is captured (such as payer information and diagnosis and procedure codes), or perform the necessary integrations. While a sample-centric LIMS might have a simple payment portal, it simply lacks the capability to store RCM-related data and perform healthcare integrations.
Electronic Health Record (EHR) Integrations are Complex
A valuable service that clinical labs can offer to improve client experience is an integration to provider EHRs or EMRs. These integrations are incredibly complex and challenging with 95% of US healthcare organizations using one of over a dozen versions of the HL7v2 data transfer protocol. EHR interfacing expertise and a LIS equipped for healthcare data integrations are absolute necessities for seamless integration projects. Since LIMS are not focused on healthcare applications like a LIS, it’s unlikely that a LIMS vendor will have the resources nor the experience to successfully complete EHR integration projects.
Healthcare Instrument Integrations
While newer lab analyzers throughout different industries have moved on to standard LAN interfaces, many commonly used clinical lab analyzers like the Beckman Coulter AU series chemistry analyzers use older serial interfaces. Integrating these types of instruments with the lab system is more complicated and sometimes requires a dedicated solution. Full-service labs using these types of analyzers should evaluate whether their LIMS and LIS vendor is capable of performing these types of integrations.
Compliance and Reporting
Clinical diagnostics labs must adhere to stringent regulations to protect patient privacy. LIS systems are designed with these compliance needs in mind, ensuring labs meet all legal requirements.
Reporting patient results in a clinical setting is more streamlined with a LIS, as it is tailored for such reports, unlike LIMS which may require additional configuration for clinical reporting.
Laboratory Information Systems (LIS) are Tailored for Clinical Labs
While a LIMS can offer broad functionality suitable for various laboratory types, it would be naive to assume that a LIMS can handle all of the data that is unique to the clinical lab world without extensive custom development. Attempting to do so is on par with re-inventing the wheel.
When there are LIS platforms specifically designed for the nuanced needs of clinical diagnostics labs, it’s best to start there. From tailored clinical workflows to billing and EHR system integrations, a LIS provides a streamlined, efficient, and compliant solution. For any clinical lab looking to optimize operations, reduce errors, and ensure efficient billing practices, investing in a robust Laboratory Information System is a strategic move towards operational excellence.