What to Look for When Choosing an External Laboratory


A quick start guide on navigating the selection of a good external laboratory brought to you by NationWide Laboratories

Whether you’re a veterinary practice owner, a seasoned scientific researcher or you simply need solutions for microbiological food and hygiene testing, the importance of selecting the right external laboratory cannot be underestimated. These off-site facilities play a pivotal role in providing vital diagnostic and testing services, influencing the quality of data, and ultimately, the clinical and real-world impact of your findings. With a myriad of options available, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, so read on for the key things you need to consider when choosing the right laboratory for your needs.

Location: Balancing Convenience and Efficiency


The location of an external laboratory can significantly influence your decision. While proximity to your practice or research facility can offer convenience, it should not be the sole determining factor. Consider how easy it is to transport samples to the laboratory, as quick and efficient logistics are vital for maintaining sample integrity.

Delivery methods

Modern courier services can often overcome geographical barriers, allowing you to choose a laboratory further away if it offers specialised services and expertise that align with your requirements. Be sure to pay attention to the packaging requirements for your samples to ensure they comply with local postal regulations, especially for biological tissues which may be classed as hazardous.

Mel Whittaker, Head of Sales South at NationWide Laboratories and NVS: “We work in partnership with every client supporting them with a range of customised commercial offers, sample collection using UK-wide distribution network, temperature-controlled sample storage where applicable, scientific expertise and unrivalled customer service.”

Turnaround Time: Swift Results for Optimal Care

Handling and processing

A crucial aspect to evaluate when selecting an external laboratory is its turnaround time for delivering results. In the veterinary world, time is often of the essence, especially when it comes to accurately diagnosing and treating animals. Likewise, food, beverage and environmental specimens may be perishable, and every hour counts after sampling. A laboratory with a reputation for timely reporting can ensure that you receive crucial diagnostic information promptly, allowing you to provide the best care possible to your patients, make informed decisions for your research project and provide accurate information on your product or facility’s microbiological status.


Any good external laboratory will also have a readily available and highly trained customer service team to advise you on the availability of the laboratory to process your required testing and give you an accurate estimate of the timeframe for completion. It’s always best to check ahead, particularly for more niche tests, to ensure an efficient process from start to finish.

Wendy Phelan, Territory Manager at NationWide Laboratories and NVS: “We know that rapid reliable laboratory results are important. Over 50% of our tests are turned round in 24 hours. We can pick up the samples overnight and return the results the following day. Our clients get comprehensive reports with a full interpretation and recommendations where appropriate and our pathologists, laboratory scientists and customer excellence advisors are always available for a phone conversation.”

Cost: Striking a Balance Between Quality and Budget


Cost considerations play a critical role in any decision-making process, and selecting an external laboratory is no exception. It is essential to strike a balance between cost and quality. While it may be tempting to opt for the most budget-friendly option, remember that cheaper services may not always deliver the accuracy and reliability you need. Look for transparent pricing models and inquire about any additional charges that may arise during the testing process.

Value added

Consider the overall value that the laboratory offers, including accuracy, reliability, and customer support, when comparing costs. Additionally, for larger-volume testing, laboratories should be able to offer discounts or special rates.

Hannah Pinnock, Territory Manager at NationWide Laboratories and NVS: “Choosing a laboratory is not an easy task, but being an independent laboratory, we are in a great position to support both independent veterinary practices and those just starting up. We work with all Buying Groups in the UK to provide flexible discounts. We integrate with multiple PMS systems to support easy sample submission, including our price file, submission form and integrated results onto client files.”

Services: Comprehensive Offerings for Diverse Needs

Breadth and depth

The range of services provided by an external laboratory can significantly impact your ability to address diverse diagnostic and research needs. Assess the laboratory’s menu of tests and services to ensure it aligns with your requirements. Look for a laboratory that offers a comprehensive suite of tests, including routine analyses and specialised diagnostics.


A good laboratory will be employing the latest technology to ensure accurate and convenient tests. Furthermore, an expansive service offering will save you time and effort, as you won’t need to engage multiple laboratories for different testing needs.

In-house vs. external

Many veterinary practices will have in-clinic analysers to perform routine diagnostic tests without needing to send samples away. In many cases, tests such as biochemistry and haematology can be run in under 15 minutes, providing rapid results for clinicians and pet owners. This offers a great advantage, especially in emergencies.

However, there are limitations to the type of tests these analyser machines can perform. Equally, factors such as the need for regular maintenance and calibration of the machines, and even user competency, can affect the accuracy of the results produced. Larger, external laboratories can therefore enhance the offerings of a veterinary practice by providing more specialised tests, expert interpretation and larger volumes of testing when required.

Andy Pritchett, Business Development Manager at NationWide Laboratories: “The scope of our work extends well beyond general diagnostics. Our extensive resources and expertise enable us to successfully carry out research work for multiple clients, offering quick turnaround times and a flexible approach throughout a range of customised projects. We can offer a complete histopathology service, any type of assay procedures, digital slide scanning service, microbiological food testing and much more.”

Accreditations: Assuring Quality and Standard


Accreditations and certifications are tangible evidence of a laboratory’s commitment to maintaining high-quality standards. Look for external laboratories that hold relevant accreditations from reputable bodies such as the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) or ISO 17025. These internationally recognised accreditations ensure that the laboratory follows strict guidelines, quality assurance measures, and proficiency testing, providing you with confidence in the accuracy and reliability of their results.


An excellent laboratory will be fully audited once a year, but they will also take on additional, voluntary audits to ensure thorough independent verification of their testing processes. Partner with laboratories that participate in externally audited quality assessment (EQA) schemes offered by independent and regulatory bodies such as LGC, Public Health England, RIQAS, UK NEQAS and VETQAS.

Sarah Unwin, Head of Biochemistry Department at NationWide Laboratories: “I have been with the company for more than 25 years and I can confidently say, that the most rewarding part of my job is processing the samples to the UKAS accreditation requirements, maintaining these standards and then releasing results, therefore, knowing that we have made a positive impact on animals’ lives and their wellbeing.”

Expertise: Trust in Knowledge and Experience


The expertise and qualifications of laboratory personnel are instrumental in producing accurate and reliable results. Investigate the credentials of the laboratory’s staff, including veterinarians, pathologists, and technicians. An external laboratory with a team of experienced professionals and specialists in various fields will be better equipped to handle complex cases and offer valuable insights into your research projects.


A sign that a laboratory is investing in its own employees’ knowledge and training is the provision of continuing professional development (CPD) material to external veterinary and scientific professionals. Webinars, blogs, podcasts and content hubs indicate that substantial time and effort have been spent on developing high-quality educational information that benefits both laboratory personnel and other industry professionals.

Sandra Wells, Operations Manager at NationWide Laboratories: “We see people as our greatest asset, and we work in partnership with the veterinary practices and non-veterinary clients to provide the best laboratory service helping them fulfil their healthcare and business objectives. We firmly believe in the power of education hence offer a wide range of online CPD on various platforms helping our teams and customers grow and develop as professionals.”

Recommendations: Word of Mouth Matters

Personal testimonials

The experiences of others can be invaluable when it comes to choosing an external laboratory. Seek recommendations from colleagues, peers, or industry professionals who have utilised the services of the laboratory you are considering.

Online reviews

Online reviews and testimonials can also provide insights into the laboratory’s performance, customer service, and overall satisfaction of its clients.

Andrew Price, Tweed House Veterinary Surgery: “We have been using NationWide Laboratories for many years now and are always happy with their prompt collection and processing of lab results. The pricing and structure of services on offer are clearly set out and allow us to offer first class diagnostics in our busy first opinion practice in an efficient manner. We appreciate the support that is available at the end of the phone and in the way of CPD that NationWide Laboratories provide for our team.”

Company Ethos: Shared Values and Vision


These days, service offering alone isn’t enough to distinguish a good business. When you choose an external laboratory, you’ll be entering into a long-term partnership, so it’s crucial to choose a laboratory that incorporates your business’ values. Look for laboratories that share your commitment to animal welfare, research integrity and ethical practices.


Additionally, a laboratory that has established principles such as environmental responsibility, investment in their employees’ ongoing training and wellbeing, and pioneering technological innovation, will reflect on your own business’ success.

David Charvill, Director at NationWide Laboratories: “As a company, we are passionate about what we do, customer-focused and always advancing. We have the broadest skill base of highly qualified pathologists, laboratory scientists and customer service experts, and our investment programme ensures that we have the capacity and technical capabilities to guarantee successful partnerships with veterinary practices, universities, research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, healthcare providers and other organisations.”

Selecting the right external laboratory is a multifaceted process that requires careful evaluation of various factors. By considering the laboratory’s location, turnaround time, cost, services, accreditations, expertise, and recommendations, you can make an informed decision that meets your specific needs and objectives. Remember that quality, accuracy, and reliability should be at the forefront of your decision-making process, as the results obtained from the laboratory will play a vital role in shaping the wellbeing of your patients or the success of your clinical, microbiological and research endeavours.

If you’re looking for a laboratory that fulfils all your testing requirements, make sure to get in touch with our expert team here at NationWide Laboratories.