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Lab Oversight: A Building Block of Trust

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Overview

It's one of the most common phrases you hear from your doctor: "I just want to run a few tests."

Laboratory tests are among the most important and pervasive aspects of modern medicine. The majority of health care decisions are derived from clinical laboratory tests. Laboratory tests provide doctors with the information for decisions from diagnosis through therapy and prognosis.

"There's scarcely a patient in my practice who hasn't had lab tests," says Dr. Scott Luria, an internal medicine physician and associate professor at the University of Vermont. For some conditions, there is just no substitute for a laboratory test. For example, high cholesterol can be identified through laboratory work long before any symptoms might appear.

Physicians rely on the laboratory for help in diagnosing any number of conditions and for managing their treatment. They trust the results that laboratories produce. But you've probably seen headlines or heard horror stories about patients who suffered dire consequences, such as unnecessary surgery or even death, as a result of inaccurate laboratory test results or incorrect interpretation of the results. So, a reasonable question for any patient is: should I trust my laboratory results?

The short answer is yes, you can have as much trust in these results as your doctor does. There are many protections in place to ensure that laboratories produce reliable results. These have been instituted by federal and state government, laboratory professional organizations, and individual laboratories themselves to help maintain standards of quality. In addition, there are steps that you personally can take to further increase your comfort with the quality of your laboratory results, including questions that you can ask your health care provider.

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