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Who's Who in the Lab: A Look at Laboratory Professionals

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You've been to the doctor and had your blood drawn, and your sample has been sent "off to the lab" for some tests. (Follow a Sample to find out what happens next.) You know your doctor and you’ve met the phlebotomist who drew your blood sample, but have you ever wondered who will actually receive your sample and conduct the prescribed tests?

There are a variety of skilled and educated laboratory professionals who, as a patient, you may never see face-to-face. However, these individuals play a very important role in your health care. People working in the clinical laboratory are responsible for conducting tests that provide crucial information for detecting, diagnosing, treating, and monitoring disease. They use specialized equipment and techniques to analyze patients’ samples, such as blood, urine, body fluids and tissue, and stool. They may be working in the lab located in the hospital, clinic, or physician's office where you are being treated or they may be at a reference laboratory located hundreds or perhaps thousands of miles away. (See Where Lab Tests Are Performed for more information on the different laboratories and how they serve you and your physician.)

Because they produce the results that impact the health care you receive, laboratory professionals are specially educated and trained for the functions they perform and, in most cases, have certification for their position. Those in supervisory roles, with extensive training and many years of experience, oversee the testing being performed in the laboratory. They also ensure that strict quality control and quality management systems are followed. Clinical laboratories in the United States are regulated by the federal government under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). Passed by Congress in 1988 and finalized in 1992, the CLIA amendments established quality standards for laboratory testing to ensure that results are accurate, reliable, and timely. They include standards for the education and training of laboratory personnel so that you can be confident in their ability to process your specimen, perform the tests, and report accurate results. More information on CLIA and other aspects of laboratory quality management systems is available in the article Lab Oversight: A Building Block of Trust.

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