Proficiency Testing (PT) is one form of external assessment of laboratories to ensure their ability to perform to the level of competence and quality required.
PT programs evaluate the ability of a testing laboratory to process, analyze, and report a specific sample with a known target analyte but unknown to the testing laboratory. PT providers send real or simulated samples to participant laboratories, laboratories analyze the samples for a specific analyte, and send their results back to the PT provider. The PT provider then compares the results to the reference or expected result and returns individual reports with the laboratory performance and collates the results from all participants allowing them to compare their performance to other participants.
PT allows a laboratory’s performance to be assessed in comparison to reference methods and to other peer laboratories and can provide external authorities with evidence about the quality and competence of laboratories/testing sites in performing their tasks.
All laboratory testing requires consistent and objective quality assurance oversight and evaluation to ensure test results are accurate, timely, and reliable and help prevent unnecessary harm to the population.
EQA providers have a unique and critical role to play in testing quality oversight and assurance. By working in collaboration and partnership with health authorities and key stakeholders, an EQA partner can help support public health.
Accurate sample testing is critical for effective decision making and testing data significantly influences public health as we have observed across the world during the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid scale up of diagnostic testing and screening.
Our experience as an ISO 17043- accredited EQA provider, supporting the quality assurance during rapid scale up of COVID-19 testing and screening in Canada demonstrates this enormous value, especially when a myriad of testing methods and testing site types are employed.
Why should my lab participate in an PT program?
Regardless of industry regulation, enrolment in a PT program has invaluable benefits for the participant laboratories/testing sites:
- Provides value as a quality indicator
- Instills confidence in the quality of a laboratory’s performance
- Provides educational opportunities
- Serves as a tool for evaluation of staff competency
- Allows peer group comparisons of test results within a particular method and between different analytical methods
While PT reveals weaknesses in the testing process, it also allows laboratories to implement corrective actions that help strengthen their quality system and thus, improve the quality of their results and services.
Ultimately, EQA is a valuable tool for Quality Improvement ONLY if it is applied for change.