External Quality Assessment (EQA) is the verification, on a recurring basis, that laboratory results conform to expectations for the quality required for patient care. It is now widely recognised that both the pre- and post-laboratory phase of testing, termed the diagnostic phases, are a significant source of laboratory errors. These errors have a direct impact on both the effectiveness of the laboratory and patient safety. Despite this, Australian laboratories tend to be focussed on very narrow concepts of EQA, primarily surrounding test accuracy, with little in the way of EQA programs for the diagnostic phases. There is a wide range of possibilities for the development of EQA for the diagnostic phases in Australia, such as the utilisation of scenarios and health informatics. Such programs can also be supported through advances in health information and communications technology, including electronic test ordering and clinical decision support systems. While the development of such programs will require consultation and support from the referring doctors, and their format will need careful construction to ensure that the data collected is de-identified and provides education as well as useful and informative data, we believe that there is high value in the development of such programs. Therefore, it is our opinion that all pathology laboratories should strive to be involved in an EQA program in the diagnostic phases to both monitor the diagnostic process and to identify, learn from and reduce errors and near misses in these phases in a timely fashion.
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- health care quality assurance