Whether it is measuring cholesterol levels to determine a patient’s risk for cardiovascular disease, sequencing the DNA of tumors to help decide the best choice of chemotherapy, or culturing specimens to pinpoint the cause of a gastrointestinal infection, laboratory medicine is there as a partner to patients and clinicians in improving their health and healthcare. From simple to complex tests, in hospitals and clinics, at the bedside or at specialized reference facilities, laboratory medicine is a major hub in the healthcare system, with the majority of treatment decisions based on lab test results.
Most lab tests are performed on blood specimens taken from fingerpricks or venipuncture. But clinical laboratories also analyze many other types of samples: urine, saliva, breath, sweat, cerebrospinal fluid, stool and hair. Lab tests detect the microscopic molecules and infectious agents in these body tissues; proteins, enzymes, DNA, RNA, bacteria, viruses and more.
Laboratory medicine also is about metrology—the science of measurement. Clinical laboratorians want test results to be the same regardless of where, when, and by which method the testing occurs. They adhere to rigorous quality control and proficiency testing standards to ensure accurate, consistent testing, day-in and day-out.
Beyond routine patient care, laboratory medicine is a leader in medical research, innovating new devices and measurement methods, identifying and conducting further analysis on new biomarkers of health and disease, and ensuring that testing performed in clinical trials meets the highest standards.