A medical laboratory or clinical laboratory is a laboratory where tests are done on clinical specimens in order to get information about the health of a patient as pertaining to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease.
Laboratory medicine is generally divided into two sections, each of which being subdivided into multiple units. These two sections are anatomic pathology and clinical pathology.
Distribution of clinical laboratories in health institutions varies greatly from one place to another.
The staff of medical laboratories may include:
- Clinical biochemist
- Pathologist’s assistant (PA)
- Medical laboratory scientist (MT, MLS or CLS)
- Medical laboratory technician (MLT)
- Medical laboratory assistant (MLA)
- Phlebotomist (PBT)
In many countries, there are two main types of labs that process the majority of medical specimens. Hospital laboratories are attached to a hospital, and perform tests on patients. Private (or community) laboratories receive samples from general practitioners, insurance companies, clinical research sites and other health clinics for analysis.
These can also be called reference laboratories where more unusual and obscure tests are performed. These include Mayo Medical Laboratories, ARUP Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp. For extremely specialized tests, samples may go to a research laboratory. Many samples are sent between different labs for uncommon tests. It is more cost effective if a particular laboratory specializes in a rare test, receiving specimens (and money) from other labs, while sending away tests it cannot perform.
Laboratories today are held together by a system of software programs and computers that exchange data about patients, test requests, and test results known as a laboratory information system or LIS. The LIS is interfaced with the hospital information system.
This system enables hospitals and labs to order the correct test requests for each patient, keep track of individual patient or specimen histories, and help guarantee a better quality of results as well as printing hard copies of the results for patient charts and doctors to check.
Credibility of medical laboratories is paramount to the health and safety of the patients relying on the testing services provided by these labs. The international standard in use today for the accreditation of medical laboratories is ISO 15189. In the United States, under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA), accreditation of medical laboratories is done by the Joint Commission, College of American Pathologists, AAB (American Association of Bioanalysts), and other state and federal agencies. CLIA 88 or the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments also dictate testing and personnel.
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