Early in their developmental history, the two major types of laboratory information systems, LISs and LIMSs, began to diverge in their functionality. The differences between these two types of systems is not revealed by their names: LIS stands for laboratory information system and LIMS stands for laboratory information management system. LISs are installed in hospital labs and commercial reference labs. LIMSs are installed in industry settings, by which I mean facilities such as pharmaceutical research labs and other industrial labs such as those in food or chemical manufacturing.
- LIMSs are designed to report results for batches of samples (e.g.,100 lab rats) to the responsible parties. They are required to satisfy good manufacturing practices (GMP), the FDA, and research scientists working in the pharmaceutical industry, as only one example.
- LISs are designed to report test results for individual patients back to the physicians caring for them. They need to satisfy the criteria of hospital accreditation agencies and HIPAA and also to avoid medical malpractice suits.
All of the above was brought home to me as I was listening to Dr. Jill Hagenkord's excellent lecture at the recently completed APIII conference in Pittsburgh (see: Array-Based Virtual Karyotyping: Ready for the Clinic But Waiting for a LIMS). During the course of her lecture, she made reference to LIMS as in the title of the lecture. However, she was clearly discussing clinical lab matters for which I felt that her use of the term LIMS was unexpected. When I discussed this with her afterwards, she was unsure of the differences between an LIS and a LIMS.
The source of her confusion quickly became apparent. She is representative of the new breed of pathologists who work in the area of genomic, proteomic, and genetic testing and for whom there is little gap between the clinical world and the world of medical research. For example, she uses sophisticated research tools but reports the results to clinicians caring for patients. The research and service worlds form a continuum for her and hence require a blending of the LIMS world with the LIS world.
One of the major goals of the translational research movement has been to bridge the gap from bench to bedside and any initiative to blend the LIS with the LIMS can be understood as an extension of this quest. The lesson from all of this is obvious. We now need to make an effort to understand the relative strengths of LISs and LIMSs and proceed to develop new systems that capture the best features of each of them.