Sharing reference intervals and monitoring patients across laboratories - findings from a likely commutable external quality assurance program

Clin Chem Lab Med. 2024 Mar 5. doi: 10.1515/cclm-2024-0041. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Laboratory results are increasingly interpreted against common reference intervals (CRIs), published clinical decision limits, or previous results for the same patient performed at different laboratories. However, there are no established systems to determine whether current analytical performance justifies these interpretations. We analysed data from a likely commutable external quality assurance program (EQA) to assess these interpretations.

Methods: The use of CRIs was assessed by evaluating instrument group medians against minimum specifications for bias. The use of clinical decision limits was assessed using specifications from professional bodies, and the monitoring of patients by testing at different laboratories was assessed by comparing all-laboratory imprecision to within-subject biological variation.

Results: Five of the 18 analytes with Australasian CRIs did not meet specification for all instrument groups. Among these, calcium and magnesium failed for one instrument group out of seven, while bicarbonate, chloride, and lipase failed for two instrument groups. Of the 18 analytes reviewed currently without CRIs in Australasia, 10 candidates were identified. Among analytes with clinical decision limits, i.e. lipids, glucose, and vitamin D, only triglycerides met both bias and imprecision specifications, while vitamin D met the imprecision specification. Monitoring patients by testing at different laboratories was supported for 15 of the 46 (33 %) analyte-method principles groups that met minimum imprecision specifications.

Conclusions: Analysis of data from commutable EQA programs can provide a mechanism for monitoring whether analytical performance justifies the interpretations made in contemporary laboratory practice. EQA providers should establish systems for routinely providing this information to the laboratory community.

Keywords: between-method bias; common reference intervals; commutable quality assurance; patient monitoring.