The Paperless Lab
The paperless lab is the nirvana of streamlined operations—or is it?
There are definitely benefits to using a software application over hand-written log books:
- Saves time: It can be faster to type data into an application than to write it into a log book. Or even faster than finding the right log book.
- Decreased errors: Incorrect data can be rejected, as happens when out-of-range information or incorrectly-formatted data is not accepted by a form.
- Space savings: Digital documentation takes up less physical space (footprint).
- Trends analysis: Software can show you trends over time, which can help you avoid problems and make incremental improvements to your processes.
- Data-mining: Software allows for convenient research and analysis of your data over specified periods of time.
- Confidentiality and security: Controlled access to certain files or processes can be ensured.
- Increased consistency: Minimize protocol drift in multi-lab systems.
- Backup: Digital data can be backed up offsite, while log books are susceptible to loss or damage.
- Easier data capture: More information can be captured digitally, such as color, voice, video and hyperlinks.
Those who are on the path-to-paperless know that there are also challenges:
- IT investment: Building infrastructure and support for a paperless lab costs more than buying lab books. You need hardware, software, lab layout, power, training and more.
- IT support: Your digital infrastructure needs care and feeding.
- Interoperability: Data needs to be exchanged or shared between media, platforms, software packages and instruments.
- Too much data: Digital files become denser and may be more difficult to search.
- Audits: How do external assessors access what they need?
- Reporting and Evidence: In some cases, digital files cannot be stored and must be printed.
- Digital storage: Consideration must be given to formats and sizes of storage media, back-up procedures, server locations, temperature monitoring, back-up recovery and a long-term strategy for data transfer to new infrastructure, media or software platforms.
- Security: Data can be at risk of a security attack if adequate safeguards are not implemented.
- Accreditation standards: How do you lock down a file before a tech review, and show edits and mark-ups as accreditation standards dictate?
For an in-depth look at the paperless laboratory, written by a Laboratory Manager in an almost-completely paperless (forensic) DNA lab, download our free whitepaper “The 21st Century Laboratory: The Challenge of Going Paperless”.