"We're going to run some tests on you." Did you ever wonder what your doctor means by that? When you provide blood, urine or other bodily substances, these samples are sent to the medical laboratory, where the technical and professional staff process the sample, test it and report the results to your physician.
Here’s what happens to your blood:
A doctor, nurse, technician or phlebotomist will draw your blood. Several tubes may be needed for different types of tests.
Depending on what illness you might have, your doctor may want to obtain a urine sample, throat swab or other sample. Follow the instructions carefully; the right sample leads to the right answers.
After the sample is collected, the container is labeled with your name and other information. If you are bringing a sample to the lab, make sure it has your name and number on it so that we do the proper tests and report them on the correct patient.
When the sample gets to the laboratory, we log into the hospital computer. In some cases, the liquid portion of blood is separated from the cells to prepare it for testing. It's then given to the laboratory staff who will perform the testing.
Chemistry: Blood and other bodily fluids are tested for chemicals, drugs and substances that indicate disease. We might check cholesterol and other tests for risk of heart disease, glucose to monitor diabetes or thyroxin to monitor the thyroid gland.
Hematology: In this section of the lab, we analyze the amount and function of blood cells and plasma. Examples include the Complete Blood Count (CBC) that tells the doctor how many cells of each type are in your blood, and the prothrombin time (PT), to measure the time it takes for your blood to clot.
Microbiology: Here we test for infections caused by bacteria, fungi or parasites by checking many types of specimens, including blood, urine, sputum and stool. We often do urine cultures for urinary tract infections.
Virology: We test for viral infections. Depending on the virus suspected, we might look for the virus directly, or test your blood to see if your immune system has reacted to a virus. Examples of virology tests include rapid tests for respiratory viruses such as influenza, molecular tests for noroviruses, and antibody tests for HIV.
I mmunology/Molecular Diagnostics: We perform a variety of complex tests. Some tests are used by your doctor to determine whether your immune system is functioning properly. State-of-the-art analysis of DNA and RNA is used to test for a variety of diseases and for the risk of developing certain diseases. Other specialized tests include the ANA, used to screen for autoimmune disease, and Factor V Leiden genotyping for patients with blood clots.
Blood Bank (Transfusion Services): This unique laboratory not only tests patients' blood types, but also provides blood products to patients who need them. We do additional tests to assure the safety of transfused blood.
After the tests are done, results are reviewed and entered into the hospital computer system. For results that indicate the patient may be very ill, we call the doctor with the results.
Depending on how long it takes to carry out a particular test, the length of time between the drawing of the blood and when your provider gets the results can vary greatly, from as little as a few minutes to as much as several weeks. Most laboratory testing is done here, but some specialized testing is sent to other labs that are expert in particular tests.
Using the Results
Once the results are reported, your provider will interpret them based on his or her knowledge of you. The test results may help to rule out or diagnose disease, or help your doctor do the best possible job of managing a known disease. You should ask your provider to explain your lab results to you, so you can participate in maintaining your health.