Electronic witnessing in the medically assisted reproduction laboratory: insights and considerations after 10 years of use

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STUDY QUESTION: What have we learnt after 10 years of electronic witnessing?

SUMMARY ANSWER: When applied correctly, an electronic witnessing system can replace manual witnessing in the medically assisted reproduction lab to prevent sample mix-up.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Electronic witnessing systems have been implemented to improve the correct identification, processing, and traceability of biological materials. When non-matching samples are simultaneously present in a single workstation, a mismatch event is generated to prevent sample mix-up.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: This evaluation investigates the mismatch and administrator assign rate over a 10-year period (March 2011-December 2021) with the use of an electronic witnessing system. Radiofrequency identification tags and barcodes were used for patient and sample identification. Since 2011, IVF and ICSI cycles and frozen embryo transfer cycles (FET) were included; IUIs cycles were included since 2013.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: The total number of tags and witnessing points were recorded. Witnessing points in a particular electronic witnessing system represent all the actions that have been performed from gamete collection through embryo production, to cryopreservation and transfer. Mismatches and administrator assigns were collected and stratified per procedure (sperm preparation, oocyte retrieval, IVF/ICSI, cleavage stage embryo or blastocyst embryo biopsy, vitrification and warming, embryo transfer, medium changeover, and IUI). Critical mismatches (such as mislabelling or non-matching samples within one work area) and critical administrator assigns (such as samples not identified by the electronic witnessing system and unconfirmed witnessing points) were selected.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: A total of 109 655 cycles were included: 53 023 IVF/ICSI, 36 347 FET, and 20 285 IUI cycles. The 724 096 used tags, led to a total of 849 650 witnessing points. The overall mismatch rate was 0.251% (2132/849 650) per witnessing point and 1.944% per cycle. In total, 144 critical mismatches occurred over the different procedures. The yearly mean critical mismatch rate was 0.017 ± 0.007% per witnessing point and 0.129 ± 0.052% per cycle. The overall administrator assign rate was 0.111% (940/849 650) per witnessing point and 0.857% per cycle, including 320 critical administrator assigns. The yearly mean critical administrator assign rate was 0.039 ± 0.010% per witnessing point and 0.301 ± 0.069% per cycle. Overall mismatch and administrator assign rates remained fairly stable during the evaluated time period. Sperm preparation and IVF/ICSI were the procedures most prone to critical mismatch and administrator assigns.

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: The procedures and methods of integration of an electronic witnessing system may vary from one laboratory to another and result in differences in the potential risks related to sample identification. Individual embryos cannot (yet) be identified by such a system; this makes extra manual witnessing indispensable at certain critical steps where potential errors are not recorded. The electronic witnessing system still needs to be used in combination with manual labelling of both the bottom and lid of dishes and tubes to guarantee correct assignment in case of malfunction or incorrect use of radiofrequency identification tags.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Electronic witnessing is considered to be the ultimate tool to safeguard correct identification of gametes and embryos. But this is only possible when used correctly, and proper training and attention of the staff is required. It may also induce new risks, i.e. blind witnessing of samples by the operator.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): No funding was either sought or obtained for this study. J.S. presents webinars on RIW for CooperSurgical. The remaining authors have nothing to declare.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1529-1537
Number of pages9
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2023. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com.


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