Laboratories use a variety of methodologies to test the countless analytes that are of interest to the medical community. Understanding the method used for a test provides a broader context for understanding your test results. Below are links to explanations of several common laboratory methods mentioned on this site.
Laboratory methods are based on established scientific principles involving biology, chemistry, and physics, and encompass all aspects of the clinical laboratory from testing the amount of cholesterol in your blood to analyzing your DNA to growing microscopic organisms that may be causing an infection. Such methods are much like the recipes in a cookbook, defining the procedures or processes that are used to test biological samples for particular analytes or substances. The laboratory scientist follows step-by-step procedures until the end product, a test result, is achieved.
Some methods, like some recipes, are much more complicated and labor-intensive than others and require varying degrees of expertise. Often, there may be more than one method that can be used to test for the same substance. Consequently, the same analyte may be tested differently in different laboratories, a fact that is crucial when comparing test results.
The descriptions of the methods listed below attempt to give some insight into the scientific principles used and the steps that are required to produce a result. Explanations of the methods – and their differences – are provided to give you a better understanding of some of the tests that you may undergo. These bulleted items are not intended to be a comprehensive list of available methodologies, but do represent some of those that are mentioned on this web site.