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EMPAT FAQs

Must a laboratory analyze both fungi and bacteria to participate?

Upon enrollment, a participant can elect to participate in the EMPAT Culture or EMPAT Direct Exam program.

What types of samples are used in the program?

Participants in the EMPAT Culture program analyze pure cultures of fungi and bacteria. Participants in the EMPAT Direct Exam program identify labeled airborne particulates in 20 digital images each round.
  

When are the proficiency testing rounds held?

Three EMPAT Culture rounds will be held each year: February, June, and October. Each participant has four weeks to complete the sample analysis.

Four EMPAT Direct Exam rounds will be held each year: January, April, July and October. Each participant has one week complete the test. During that week, participants will have one hour to review the images and return results.

How many samples are included in each round?

Each culture round consists of 6 test samples (3 bacteria and 3 fungi) and 2 blank samples. Each Direct Exam round consists of 20 digital images.

How are proficiency samples sent?

Direct Exam round notification emails will be sent to participants two weeks prior to the round open date. Participants will have 24-hour access to the images through the PAT Portal for one week beginning the on the round open date.

Culture samples are shipped via FedEx on KWIK-STIK swabs. A PDF of the KWIK-STIK instructions is available online. Upon receipt of the Culture samples, it is the responsibility of the laboratory to inspect the shipment for any damage and to ensure that the correct samples were received. If samples are damaged, then the participant shall notify the AIHA PAT Programs within 24 hours of sample receipt to ensure timely replacement of samples for the participant to meet the deadline for submission of data. Participants requesting special shipping for replacement samples shall assume the cost of express carrier handling.

If the Culture samples are not received by the participant in accordance with the predefined schedule, then it shall be the responsibility of the participant to contact the AIHA PAT Programs within one (1) week of the scheduled shipping date to notify us of failure to receive the PT samples. A participant that receives EMPAT samples but does not submit results or contact AIHA PAT Programs by the deadline will receive a "Fail" for the round.

What should I know about import permits?

Participants outside of the Continental United States are responsible for obtaining and maintaining current import permits. Failure to provide current import permits in a timely manner may result in delayed shipment of samples and reduced analysis time. Failing to report results due to late submission of import permits shall result in "Fail” for the round.
 

When is the next round of EMPAT and when is the deadline to sign up?

Please see the Program Schedule​ for all important program dates and deadlines.

How are EMPAT proficiency samples scored?

Culture scoring is based on the following point system: 
  • Correct identification at the genus level [9 points]
  • Correct identification at the species level (and genus identification correct) [10 points]
  • Incorrect identification at the species level (and genus identification correct) [8 points]
  • Incorrect identification at genus level [0 points]

Direct Exam scoring is based on the following:

Results will be summarized, and each correctly identified image will receive 5 points for a round maximum score of 100 points. Incorrect responses will receive 0 points. Images that fail to pass scoring criteria checks will be excluded from scoring and participants will receive 5 points.

How is proficiency determined?

A participant is rated proficient for the applicable analyte if two of the last three consecutive EMPAT rounds have passing scores. A passing score is achieved when the participant receives a minimum score of eighty -five (85) percent for the associated EMPAT analyte (i.e., fungi, bacteria, Direct Exam).​

Do I have to identify to the species level?

Identification at the species level is optional in the EMPAT Culture program, but it is strongly encouraged.

What scoring acceptance criteria are used for the EMPAT Culture and Direct Exam Programs?

For a sample to be scored for the round it must first pass scoring acceptance criteria.

The challenge must have 80% or more agreement among the reference participants at the genus level (Culture) or 80% agreement on the identification (Direct Exam). Additionally, scoring criteria require growth from at least 50% of all participants (Culture) and 50% population agreement with the expected identification (Direct Exam).

When a challenge fails to pass any of the above-mentioned scoring criteria checks, all program participants receive a full credit score for the sample. An explanation of which criterion failed is provided on participant results reports if a sample is not graded for a round.

What should I do if I am unable to recover and culture a sample?

A participant has approximately two weeks to report non-growth to AIHA PAT Programs. Replacement samples can be purchased and sent overnight to the laboratory. In the event that a sample fails scoring acceptance criteria, as outlined above, the cost of the replacement samples will be returned to the organization. If the replacement sample does not grow, participants must check the no-growth option on the Data Submission page for the sample.

What happens if my laboratory is non-proficient?

If non-proficient, a laboratory may choose to participate in a retest round to attempt to regain proficient status. The retest results will replace the original results submitted by the laboratory and proficiency will be evaluated based upon the retest round pass/fail determination. Retest samples may also be used to expedite initial proficiency for a new program or when adding an analyte to an existing program. A retest sample order form is available on the AIHA PAT Programs website.

What are the analytical methods required?

The EMPAT program does not specify a specific analytical method be used. However, the culture program is based on culturable identification techniques and it is not recommended that participants rely entirely on the results of automated testing systems. Many of these systems are still being developed and the databases used are incomplete and may produce erroneous results. Samples should be processed the same way as samples typically received by the laboratory.

What are suggested reference texts?

Atlas of Clinical Fungi, ASM Manual of Clinical Microbiology, Bergey's Manual of Determinative Bacteriology, Bergey's Manual of Systematic Bacteriology, Bailey and Scott's Diagnostic Microbiology, ASM Manual of Environmental Microbiology, Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater, Identification of Unusual Pathogenic Gram-Negative Aerobic and Facultatively Anaerobic Bacteria, Color Atlas and Textbook of Diagnostic Microbiology, Compendium of Soil Fungi, Illustrated Genera of Imperfect Fungi, Identification Manual for Fungi from Utility Poles in the Eastern United States, Identification of Common Aspergillus Species, A Laboratory Guide to Common Penicillium Species, Microorganisms in Home and Indoor Work Environments.

Who prepares the proficiency testing samples?

Microbiologics supplies the samples for the EMPAT Culture program.

Please contact the AIHA PAT Programs at info.PATLLC@aiha.org for more information about the Environmental Microbiology Proficiency Analytical Testing (EMPAT) program.
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Updated: 6/28/2019 9:47 AM