We could start and end the entire article with one word – yes. Instrument calibration is indeed crucial. There are those who would say that instrument calibration is just another clinical lab job, but the reality is much different. In essence, instrument calibration is a vital first step for getting accurate lab results.
However, there’s much more to it, and we will attempt to give you more explanation on why this is the case. Moreover, we will focus on adequately describing how to calibrate your instruments correctly.
The Importance of Instrument Calibration
Instrument calibration is the first step in producing reliable results for patients, but also for ensuring the instruments are performing well.
When you look at it from that side, it becomes very evident why instrument calibration needs to be a foundation of all laboratory patient testing. We would go as far as to say that it is essential to have a completely effective instrument calibration. Everything less than 100% effectiveness becomes inefficient in making sure the instruments are performing accurately and patient test results reliable.
All in all, instrument calibration is used to determine a specific reference point from which you can then enable your instruments to produce accurate results. Without such calibration, you won’t be able to ascertain the effectiveness of your devices, and thus you won’t be able to know if your results are going to be reliable and accurate.
Every instrument requires adjustment. If it measures something, then it needs tweaking. That’s not only true for laboratory instruments but also any other device in the world. Even simple objects that you use in everyday life, like a kitchen scale, for example, requires adjustment. If your kitchen scale is not calibrated, then there’s no way of knowing whether or not it’s functioning accurately. You will not be able to tell if you accurately measure your ingredients when preparing a meal.
It’s a simple comparison, yet one that adequately portrays the importance of calibration. Since the improper measurement of your ingredients can be tragic in food preparation, it’s easy to assume that unreliable patient results arising from poor instruments can be catastrophic.
We’ve used the previous comparison because even the act of calibration is similar in a way. Instead of using weights, in laboratory instrument calibration you’re using calibrators or the so-called ‘standards’ with a known concentration. That means that the calibrator needs to be an instrument with much higher accuracy. It can then act as a sort of standard or point of reference, which will enable you to determine how accurate an apparatus is.
A Brief Look at the Calibration Process
During the calibration process, your lab needs to program the instrument with a specific concentration from each analyte, all according to the information shown on the insert that’s supplied with the calibrator. When completed, the device can then measure the calibrator, and subsequently, you can adjust the reading to equal the given values.
To do all of this effectively, you need to choose a proper calibrator, and that’s the next thing we need to discuss.
Choosing an Adequate Calibrator in Four Simple Steps
Selecting the right calibrator that functions correctly and can act as a good reference point for instrument calibration is crucial for the whole process of calibration. With that in mind, we wanted to give you a simple 4-step rule which you can use to determine the appropriate calibrator.
- You need to find and use a third party calibrator. That means that it needs to have independently assigned values, which will separate it from the instrument in need of calibration. Furthermore, that same third party calibrator cannot be optimized to work with any other specific device or any other reagent system.
- You need to use a calibrator that has the same matrix as a sample of the patient. For example, you will need to get a urine-based calibrator if you are going to be calibrating instruments used in urine chemistry tests. All of this naturally means that for each calibration of a different device, you will have to use a different calibrator.
- You can use a multi-analyte calibrator that has a very long shelf life. It’s not a necessity, but it’s advisable as that will save your lab a lot of time and money for future calibrations.
- You should use a calibrator that’s utterly traceable to the reference materials. This part is essential for ensuring that the test results are accurate and comparable.
By following these steps, it will be much easier for you to find the right calibrator. However, you should also know when to perform the calibrations. There’s no specific timeframe, but frequent calibrations are advisable to ensure you are making a robust foundation for the accuracy of patient results.
Performing an Accurate and Successful Calibration in Five Steps
After making sure that your calibrator is the right one, you will still have to complete the calibration in an accurate and eventually successful manner. Once again, we’ve simplified things by giving you a 5-step rule.
- Carefully follow the instructions for calibration made by the manufacturer of the instrument. If those don’t exist, use a frequency determined by your QC frequency.
- When validating assays, you need to assess the calibration frequency. You can determine the rate of required calibrations depending on the stability of the test.
- If you cannot demonstrate that changing the lot numbers of the reagent is not negatively affecting values and results, then you will need to recalibrate at every point the reagent batch has changed.
- If your QC results are showing a systematic bias, then you need to recalibrate.
- Whenever you perform major instrument maintenance, then you will need to recalibrate, because maintenance can easily create changes in QC values.
As you can see from this text, instrument calibration is more important than many would want to admit. It’s not a simple clinical lab job, but a critical first step in getting accurate test results.
It’s crucial for making sure that the instruments can produce accurate results and in making sure that the results they provide are valid as well.
Furthermore, it’s vital for you to find and use adequate standards in calibration. That will enable you to perform a successful calibration. You can use our 5-step rule for that.
By doing all of this, you will ensure proper instrument functioning and accurate patient results.