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  • Author: Patrick J. Twomey x
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Background: Measurement of parathyroid hormone (PTH) is central in the investigation of pathologies of bone and mineral ion metabolism. Knowledge of the biological variation of an analyte forms an essential part of evaluating a new analyte, enabling the objective assessment of changes in serial results and the utility of reference intervals, as well as establishing laboratory quality specifications.

Methods: This study determined the biological variation of PTH in 20 healthy individuals, which was calculated according to the familiar methods outlined by Fraser and Harris.

Results: The within-subject variation was 25.3% and the between-subject variation was 43.4%. The critical difference for sequential values significant at p<0.05 was calculated as 72%. The within-subject variation forms a relatively small part of the reference interval, shown by the low index of individuality of 0.58. Objective analytical quality goals have also been established, revealing achievable optimum performance for imprecision of ∼6%. The desirable analytical bias goal was ∼12%.

Conclusions: This study has objectively shown that the analytical precision of current instruments is being achieved contrary to the known problems surrounding the analytical bias for PTH assays. The limitations of using reference intervals for PTH, both in diagnoses and monitoring, are shown.

Clin Chem Lab Med 2008;46:1438–42.


Several studies have shown that recommendations related to how laboratory testing should be performed and results interpreted are limited in medical guidelines and that the uptake and implementation of the recommendations that are available need improvement. The EFLM/UEMS Working Group on Guidelines conducted a survey amongst the national societies for clinical chemistry in Europe regarding development of laboratory-related guidelines. The results showed that most countries have guidelines that are specifically related to laboratory testing; however, not all countries have a formal procedure for accepting such guidelines and few countries have guideline committees. Based on this, the EFLM/UEMS Working Group on Guidelines conclude that there is still room for improvement regarding these processes in Europe and raise the question if the accreditation bodies could be a facilitator for an improvement.


Clinical practice guidelines (CPG) are written with the aim of collating the most up to date information into a single document that will aid clinicians in providing the best practice for their patients. There is evidence to suggest that those clinicians who adhere to CPG deliver better outcomes for their patients. Why, therefore, are clinicians so poor at adhering to CPG? The main barriers include awareness, familiarity and agreement with the contents. Secondly, clinicians must feel that they have the skills and are therefore able to deliver on the CPG. Clinicians also need to be able to overcome the inertia of “normal practice” and understand the need for change. Thirdly, the goals of clinicians and patients are not always the same as each other (or the guidelines). Finally, there are a multitude of external barriers including equipment, space, educational materials, time, staff, and financial resource. In view of the considerable energy that has been placed on guidelines, there has been extensive research into their uptake. Laboratory medicine specialists are not immune from these barriers. Most CPG that include laboratory tests do not have sufficient detail for laboratories to provide any added value. However, where appropriate recommendations are made, then it appears that laboratory specialist express the same difficulties in compliance as front-line clinicians.


External Quality Assurance (EQA) is vital to ensure acceptable analytical quality in medical laboratories. A key component of an EQA scheme is an analytical performance specification (APS) for each measurand that a laboratory can use to assess the extent of deviation of the obtained results from the target value. A consensus conference held in Milan in 2014 has proposed three models to set APS and these can be applied to setting APS for EQA. A goal arising from this conference is the harmonisation of EQA APS between different schemes to deliver consistent quality messages to laboratories irrespective of location and the choice of EQA provider. At this time there are wide differences in the APS used in different EQA schemes for the same measurands. Contributing factors to this variation are that the APS in different schemes are established using different criteria, applied to different types of data (e.g. single data points, multiple data points), used for different goals (e.g. improvement of analytical quality; licensing), and with the aim of eliciting different responses from participants. This paper provides recommendations from the European Federation of Laboratory Medicine (EFLM) Task and Finish Group on Performance Specifications for External Quality Assurance Schemes (TFG-APSEQA) and on clear terminology for EQA APS. The recommended terminology covers six elements required to understand APS: 1) a statement on the EQA material matrix and its commutability; 2) the method used to assign the target value; 3) the data set to which APS are applied; 4) the applicable analytical property being assessed (i.e. total error, bias, imprecision, uncertainty); 5) the rationale for the selection of the APS; and 6) the type of the Milan model(s) used to set the APS. The terminology is required for EQA participants and other interested parties to understand the meaning of meeting or not meeting APS.