Whether your laboratory must have ISO 15189 accreditation or chooses to because of its many benefits, the requirements are the same.
NATA accreditation requirements for all ISO 15189 medical laboratories
NATA offers ISO 15189 accreditation through the NATA/RCPA joint accreditation program only. NATA applies like requirements in every medical laboratory, whether they claim Medicare benefits or not.
Getting accredited by NATA to ISO 15189 is not as simple as getting a copy of the ISO standard and meeting the criteria. NATA’s ISO 15189 accreditation requirements include a suite of NPAAC documents that overlap with the NATA documents. There are 30 or more documents covering requirements that could be applied to your laboratory.
You may get the impression from the sheer number of documents you have an enormous amount of work to meet these requirements. However, all accreditation requirements are based on what any professional organisation should already be doing to ensure they are putting out reliable test results. Of course, the more complex the testing you are doing, the more involved your processes will be for controlling the quality, but all the requirements fall into the following main areas:
Staff & training
You employ or contract staff to manage and work in your laboratory, including clinical staff, to oversee and manage risk (“designated person“). They have relevant experience or qualifications, or both, and you supervise those who are still in training. There are job descriptions for each role or person. You give them training when they need it, and, for critical tasks, you assess the results of that training. Staff members are ‘signed off when they are ready to work unsupervised.
At regular intervals, you reassess staff members to determine if they need further training, and you support your staff by providing professional development opportunities.
The physical environment of the laboratory
The collection, laboratory, office and storage facilities are designed to avoid cross-contamination between samples and provide a secure and safe working environment for the staff. If methods call for any specific environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, sterility, radiation, vibration levels etc.), you provide those conditions and monitor them. When using shared facilities or borrowed equipment, you put in extra effort to ensure these conditions are provided. You keep the facilities clean and uncluttered.
Access to the laboratory and patient information is controlled. For most clinical laboratories, this means locked doors and strictly-controlled access to records and results.
Equipment & consumables
You have provided all the equipment necessary to perform the testing and any other processes such as sample collection and preparation. The equipment can achieve the required accuracy and complies with any specifications in the methods. You have up-to-date instructions on using the available equipment, and you make sure that only trained people use it. You check or calibrate the equipment regularly if it has a significant effect on the test results.
Consumables are received, stored and checked to ensure that they are not damaged or invalidated in any way. Consumables not approved for use are quarantined from those in use.
Collection, transport and handling of samples
All samples are uniquely identified, and they are not damaged by transport, storage or other arrangements. You record any problems with the samples before you start processing or testing.
If your organisation collects the samples, this is done by trained staff with access to current instructions for collecting and handling various types of samples. You also provide this information to anyone else who collects samples to send to your laboratory.
You use suitable methods based on client requirements and technical validity, including clinical utility. These may be commercial or in-house methods. Either way, you have made sure that the methods can accurately measure the quantity in the types of samples you receive.
You have identified the critical control points in the methods.
In-house developed methods are validated to make sure they produce reliable test results. This validation includes estimating the measurement uncertainty for the method. (OK, this last bit can be daunting, but once you know how to do it, it’s do-able, if not easy.)
If you use commercial methods (approved by the TGA for diagnostic purposes), you verify that the methods work correctly in your hands. When you subcontract any testing, processing or interpretation of results, you have a process in place to make sure these are valid.
QC and proficiency testing
You have a system of quality control testing and external quality assurance programs that ensures your test results are valid, and you monitor the QC results for trends.
Recording and reporting test results
You keep complete records of testing, including original observations, staff identity, the identity of critical equipment and any other factors that can affect the test result significantly. Test reports are factual and can be understood by the client whilst containing all required information.
Management and quality improvement
Across the top of your technical arrangements for running the laboratory well, you have a management structure that supports the laboratory’s effective running. You have considered where conflicts of interest may arise within your organisation, and you make sure that there are enough staff members to do the work. Key processes such as quoting and accepting new work, purchasing, subcontracting and customer feedback are planned and defined. You have documented all of your key processes (including the technical areas) and have a system to ensure staff can access up-to-date versions of all procedures.
You hold regular management meetings to gain perspective on the overall operation of the business. Internal audits happen regularly to make sure your system is still running the way you intended. There is a system for dealing with complaints, improvement suggestions and non-conformances that leads to improvements in your performance. This system includes escalating significant issues such as customer complaints to the designated person.
And finally, you keep records of all management and quality activities.
Find details of the accreditation criteria in the following documents:
- NPAAC requirements
- ISO 15189 Standard Application Document (SAD)
- Equipment Assurance Criteria & General Equipment Table
- NATA Rules
- NATA Procedures for Accreditation
- Other documents classified into general accreditation criteria, general accreditation guidance, specific accreditation criteria and specific accreditation guidance.
See the complete list of NATA’s accreditation criteria here.