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What is the difference between LIS and LIMS?

June 9, 2021 | Daniel Doll
CGM LABDAQ in a clinical laboratory

If you are the owner of a new laboratory, the choice in lab management software is a critical and daunting one. There are many systems from which to choose, and complicating things even more, these platforms fall into one of two seemingly interchangeable categories: an LIS or a LIMS.

Even for the well initiated, the distinction between an LIS and a LIMS has become a bit blurry. Are they different? Yes. But, not by much.

Differences between LIS and LIMS

An LIS, or laboratory information system, is most common in a clinical laboratory setting. It allows clinical laboratories to report data related to individual patients. An LIS is traditionally designed to support a lab's compliance to regulatory bodies including HIPAA, ISO, the FDA, CAP, the Joint Commission, and others.

LIMS stands for laboratory information management system. The name is vague enough to obscure the differences between the two systems, but the main differentiators are the setting where it is found and the flexibility offered for customizing workflows.

According to Laboratory Solutions Consultant Royce Zeiler, "An LIS is more often found in what we refer to as a 'clinical' setting, whereas a LIMS has been for, say, research and development, forensic testing, and cannabis testing. However, the distinctions between the two have blurred over time, and there is a lot more overlap in the industry today."

We describe these differences in historic terms, because, while they do still apply in many instances, the evolution of some of today's leading solutions has brought the two much close together.

For example, the CGM LABDAQ Laboratory Information System is powerful and flexible enough that it can satisfy the chain of custody and reporting requirements of forensic or cannabis testing laboratories, and customers in those industries will refer to it as a LIMS.

According to Royce, CGM LABDAQ is able to meet the needs of both a clinical and agricultural laboratory through advanced software options including Workflow Management for molecular and cannabis testing, and Specimen Storage. Furthermore, "a comprehensive report library and audit trail ensure that clients are able to adhere to the evolving regulatory requirements they face with, for example, cannabis testing," he said.

In the United States, CGM LABDAQ is so popular as a LIMS for the cannabis testing market, CompuGroup Medical designed a specific cannabis testing LIMS webpage to support these labs.

Similarities among lab management software

The confusion between the terms stems from the fact that LIS and LIMS have always had more things in common than they do separating them.

In an article talking about the similarities between LIS and LIMS, On Now Digital lists many of these commonalities:

  • Centralized workflows
  • Sample or specimen tracking
  • Chain of custody records or audit trail
  • Analysis and QC functionality
  • Real-time data accessibility
  • Analyzer and software integration

An LIS or LIMS should equally be able to integrate with lab analyzers and third-party software ranging from systems in use within the lab, at provider's offices and insurance companies, or at state regulatory bodies, for example. 

As the functionality of advanced lab software expands, and as leading LIS and LIMS platforms converge, people will continue to use the terms interchangeably.

When establishing your new laboratory, go beyond the name, and make sure that the software you're considering can meet your needs today and grow with you in the future.

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