A medical procedure that involves testing a sample of blood, urine, or other substance from the body. Laboratory tests can help determine a diagnosis, plan treatment, check to see if treatment is working, or monitor the disease over time.
We have classified clinical laboratories testing into 6 major categories: hematology, chemistry, serology/immunology, microbiology, toxicology and pathology/cytology. Within each of these areas, many different analytes are assayed using a variety of analytical approaches. A brief description of the scientific focus of each of these areas and a list of the most common tests examples of in each of the major areas follows.
Regardless of the area of the clinical laboratory, the clinical laboratory scientists who work there not only perform assays and report their results. They also carefully monitor for accuracy, timeliness, and all aspects of each assay—from collection and transport of the sample to the laboratory to completion of the assay and transmission of data back to the physician. In addition, each process is continuously evaluated to determine ways in which the assay or process might be improved to give better patient care. These processes are called quality control, quality assurance, and total quality improvement. Clinical laboratory scientists are devoted to ensuring that these monitors of quality are continuously applied in all aspects of their work.
Chemistry is the area where patients’ samples are checked for various chemical components. When humans are in a state of good health, the levels of various body chemicals fall within highly predictable ranges.
Hematology & Microscopy
In the hematology laboratory, the focus is primarily on the cellular components of blood. When a human is in a state of good health, each cellular component in the blood is present in predictable numbers.
Immunology & Serology
Immunology is the study of the body’s immune system and its functions and disorders. Serology is the study of blood serum (the clear fluid that separates when blood clots).
Microbiology is the area that examines patients’ samples for agents of infectious diseases. The specimen material includes samples from wounds, noses/throats, blood and body fluids, and many other body sites.
Toxicology is the scientific study of adverse effects that occur in living organisms due to chemicals. It involves observing and reporting symptoms, mechanisms, detection and treatments of toxic substances, in particular relation to the poisoning of humans.
Clinical pathology is a medical specialty that is concerned with the diagnosis of disease based on the laboratory analysis of bodily fluids such as blood and urine, as well as tissues, using the tools of chemistry, clinical microbiology, hematology and molecular pathology.