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External quality assessment: best practice
  1. David James1,
  2. Darren Ames2,
  3. Berenice Lopez3,
  4. Rachel Still4,
  5. Wiliam Simpson5,
  6. Patrick Twomey6
  1. 1 Southwest Pathology Services, Taunton, UK
  2. 2 Department of Pathology, St Helens and Knowsley NHS Teaching Hospitals Trust, Prescot, UK
  3. 3 Department of Chemical Pathology, Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, Harrogate, UK
  4. 4 Department of Laboratory Medicine, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University NHS Health Board, Swansea, UK
  5. 5 Department of Clinical Biochemistry, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Aberdeen, UK
  6. 6 Department of Clinical Biochemistry, The Ipswich Hospital, Ipswich, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr David James, Southwest Pathology Services, Lisieux Way, Taunton TA1 2JX, UK; david.james{at}


There is a requirement for accredited laboratories to participate in external quality assessment (EQA) schemes, but there is wide variation in understanding as to what is required by the laboratories and scheme providers in fulfilling this. This is not helped by a diversity of language used in connection with EQA; Proficiency testing (PT), EQA schemes, and EQA programmes, each of which have different meanings and offerings in the context of improving laboratory quality.

We examine these differences, and identify what factors are important in supporting quality within a clinical laboratory and what should influence the choice of EQA programme. Equally as important is how EQA samples are handled within the laboratory, and how the information provided by the EQA programme is used.

EQA programmes are a key element of a laboratory's quality assurance framework, but laboratories should have an understanding of what their EQA programmes are capable of demonstrating, how they should be used within the laboratory, and how they support quality. EQA providers should be clear as to what type of programme they provide – PT, EQA Scheme or EQA Programme.

  • Biochemistry
  • Quality Assurance
  • Safety

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