The FORESIGHT 2020 software dashboard. (Image: Courtesy of Max Houck)

The laboratory was doing post-mortem toxicology tests. For each autopsy, they performed the same analyses that other crime laboratories in other parts of the country did—but they were doing way more tests on average than those other laboratories. When approached by observers about the extra diagnostics, the experts told them their “overtesting” was purposeful. Two major university hospitals in the area served an aging population. Among this aging group, there were a disproportionate number of prescription deaths.

In fact, their “overtesting” had determined that as many as a fifth of heart attack fatalities reported in those hospitals were, in fact, due to complications from deadly prescription interactions.

In this age of the opioid scourge, the observers from a laboratory best-practices project found a model for doing better, more comprehensive testing that could be an example for other laboratories trying to accurately catalogue deaths.

The FORESIGHT Project is a way for laboratories to benchmark against one another in such meaningful ways. But over its last decade, it has relied on some time-consuming methods of putting together spreadsheets and collating data for the numbers to be crunched, the evaluations made.

The project’s new software, FORESIGHT 2020, attempts to change that.

It has automated most of the key tasks for a dozen laboratories—and promises to highlight both best practices and limitations in the places that are using it, project manager Max Houck told Forensic Magazine recently in conversation.

“It’s that kind of data, that kind of analysis, that kind of awareness that you only get through benchmarking,” said Houck. “That’s what the laboratories really need now, because resources are tight, and the pressures on performance are high.”

The FORESIGHT project originally incorporated 200 laboratories worldwide—but the data wasn’t always collected, due to its time-consuming demands. The automated 2020 software allows real-time tracking, and status and trends updates.

“Now, with FORESIGHT 2020, the labs can submit the data with a few clicks and get feedback on how they are performing against other labs in the project,” said Houck.

The new software was written by Tomiko, in cooperation with four vendors of LIMS: JusticeTrax, Porter Lee, STaCS and StarLIMs. (This last LIMS is actually integrating FORESIGHT compatibility into its system heading forward.)

Implementation was not simple at every site; each install was between 30 and 50 hours, according to Houck. But there are considerations to making the system web-based, which would circumvent the customizing and tailoring that proved a challenge in some of the laboratories, he added.

The venture was funded by a grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to get the dozen laboratories online. The FORESIGHT data is centralized and run out of West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics. (The staff of the project includes a finance expert there, in addition to Houck.)

The 10,000-foot view could get all of the ASCLD members on the same page, and improve the implementation of forensic science as a whole, Houck said.

“It’s long overdue, frankly,” said Houck. “The science, good or bad, will take care of itself through research. But the management of that science needs the same level of concentration, the same level of focus, the same level of funding.”

Lab directors or forensic scientists interested in pursuing FORESIGHT 2020 compatibility should contact ASCLD: (919) 773-2044.