Clinical Lab

Essential information for physicians and patients

Most often located within or near hospitals, clinical laboratories are healthcare facilities specializing in lab procedures that assist physicians in the diagnosis, treatment and management of patients. While “clinical lab” is a general designation, individual facilities can be classified in terms of mission and scope according to various criteria:

  • Function – Is this a general lab providing the most common diagnostic tests, or one more specialized and structured toward disease-specific diagnostics and confirmational tests
  • Ownership – Is it a public facility run under, for example, a state university department of medicine, or is the lab part of a privately owned and administrated healthcare institution
  • Specialization – Does the clinical lab cater specifically to a particular field or area of medical research, such as:
    • Clinical Chemistry
    • Clinical Microbiology
    • Hematology
    • Blood banking and Serology (aka Immunohematology, Transfusion Medicine)
    • Clinical Microscopy
    • Histopathology and Cytopathology
    • Molecular Biology
    • Public Health (e.g., water analysis, environmental toxin testing, assessments)

By necessity, clinical labs must conduct testing in the most logical and rigorous manner available. Each facility typically follows three distinct phases of the lab testing process, using guidance provided by standard operating procedure (SOP) manuals and other job aids:

  • Pre-analytic – The first testing phase, involving initial handling of specimens; serious errors related to handling and identification are minimized with strict control measures in place to avoid problems with later phases.
  • Analytic – The second phase, consisting of actual lab testing, diagnostic procedures, processes and products that will eventually produce results.
  • Post-analytic – The third phase, where results are finally obtained and provided in the form of a final value, or a more comprehensive description such as a diagnostic pathology report (in the case of histological testing).

Clinical labs are, especially in the most modern context, known for using state-of-the-art, highly automated instrumentation for sample testing. Still, the laboratory professionals who set up and operate these testing systems are the most valuable assets in ensuring accurate, reliable clinical test results.

References

Bayot, Marlon L. "Clinical Laboratory - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf." National Center for Biotechnology Information, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535358/.
"International Organization for Standardization." Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/International-Organization-for-Standardization.
"Pre-Analytical, Analytical, and Post-Analytical Phases of Testing - LabCE.Com, Laboratory Continuing Education." CE and Exam Preparation for Medical Laboratory Professionals - LabCE, https://www.labce.com/spg650097_pre_analytical_analytical_and_post_analytical_phas.aspx.
"What Is a Clinical Laboratory | AACC.Org." AACC - American Association for Clinical Chemistry, https://www.aacc.org/career-center/career-guidance/what-is-a-clinical-laboratory.
"What Is Clinical Laboratory Science? | Clinical Laboratory Science." Clinical Laboratory Science, https://www.med.unc.edu/ahs/clinical/about-us/what-is-laboratory-science/.

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