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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”. 

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Download the free white paper “The 21st Century Laboratory: The Challenge of Going Paperless”

In this paper, Brian Hoey, Laboratory Manager/DNA Technical leader at the Missouri State Highway Patrol, takes a real-world look at the opportunities and challenges faced by DNA laboratories on the path to paperless.