Summer 2016​

APHL assists WHO and other subject matter experts with updating EQA guidelines for global use. Accessioning specimens at the Maryland Public Health Laboratory. Photo: 2016 Walter P. Calahan, All Rights Reserved

A laboratorian checks results for a test.

From specimen collection to delivery of test results, laboratory testing must conform to the highest standards of quality: lives depend on it. Yet the accuracy of laboratory testing varies widely among countries, across jurisdictions and even between individual laboratories.

Implementing an External Quality Assessment (EQA) program, which compares a laboratory’s test results against those of an external authority, is key to developing a culture of quality via a laboratory quality management system.

Though EQA programs are well established in most countries, they are by no means universal. Many countries in the Global South must compare the costs of implementing an EQA program with the benefits of improved patient care and better utilization of limited healthcare resources. In addition, these countries must negotiate the complex process of EQA program implementation.

In 2015 APHL Director of Quality Systems Karen Breckenridge joined other subject matter experts and country representatives at World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva to update WHO guidelines for developing a national EQA program. Released in June 2016, Strategies for Establishing a National External Quality Assessment (EQA) Scheme explains the value of EQA and outlines how to organize a national program, estimate costs and support a testing network. Also covered are packaging and shipping and selection of appropriate proficiency testing items.

APHL is helping to distribute the publication to global partners. WHO representatives will discuss the guidelines at the annual meeting of the African Society for Laboratory Medicine in Cape Town later this year.