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Inside the Lab

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Flip a switch and the lights go on. Turn the faucet and you can get a cold glass of water. Let someone stick you with a needle – or give someone something from your body – and you get information about your health.

That's how lab tests have worked until recently. Except for the relationship you have with the person who takes the sample from you, it is rare that you get a glimpse at the many people involved in generating a laboratory test result. Nor do you get much opportunity to learn what happens after the specimen, or test sample, disappears from view.

As labs take on an increasingly prominent role in health care – in some states, patients are permitted to order lab tests without a doctor's prescription – understanding what happens behind the scenes is almost as important as knowing what can be learned from your test results. The articles listed below have been prepared to give you a better sense of the lab and how it functions.

Blood Banking
This article provides a glimpse into four key aspects of blood banking: 1) donating blood, 2) protecting the blood supply, 3) ensuring its proper use, and 4) the risks involved for donors as well as recipients.

Lab Oversight: A Building Block of Trust
This article reviews the regulations and processes instituted by federal and state government, laboratory professional organizations, and individual labs themselves to help maintain standards of quality as well as provides examples of steps that you personally can take to further increase your comfort with the quality of your lab results.

Where Lab Tests Are Performed
Laboratory testing is performed in many different settings these days – from the large reference lab that performs complex tests to your own home. This article explores the important differences among the various testing settings.

Follow That Sample: A Short Lab Tour
In this online tour, you can follow two samples - a blood sample and a throat culture - to get a glimpse at what you don't normally get to see: what happens to your sample once it leaves your sight.

Who's Who in the Lab: A Look at Laboratory Professionals
This article examines the roles and qualifications of the many skilled professionals who work in clinical laboratories as well as the outlook and resources for people interested in entering this field.