This document is intended to assist towards the WHO objective that external quality assessment (EQA) schemes be established at national and/or regional levels world-wide. Quality assurance is defined as all steps taken by the director of a laboratory to ensure reliability of laboratory results and to increase accuracy, reproducibility and between-laboratory comparability. This includes the use of internal quality control procedures and participation in external quality assessment. Internal quality control provides the means for evaluation of analytic test results at the time of testing in order to decide whether they are reliable enough to be released to the requesting clinicians. EQA, on the other hand, refers to a system of retrospective and objective comparison of results from different laboratories by means of proficiency testing (PT) organised by an external agency. The main purpose is to establish between-laboratory and between-method (including between-instrument) comparability, and agreement with a reference standard where one exists. Internal quality control and EQA complement each other and must never be considered as alternatives.
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