A study of a modified Canadian unit system of measuring laboratory workload was undertaken in five joint Public Health Laboratory Service and hospital microbiology laboratories. Ten percent of the specimens received over six months were sampled, the number of units expended on each was recorded, and the results were analysed on a central computer. The process of gathering information in the absence of laboratory computers was time consuming and, despite careful planning, differences were found in the recording practices of the laboratories. The analysis of results did not lead to major changes in data gathering techniques because the same information about laboratory workload could be obtained by collecting numbers of clearly defined specimens. Analysis of workload units could be useful for particular purposes, such as comparing differences between laboratories using different techniques for the same investigation or assessing the possible benefits of automation. It must be appreciated, however, that workload units are measures of quantity not of laboratory performance.
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