essay on Clinical Laboratory Science:
Many people tend to treat the term Medical Technology as a synonym for Clinical Laboratory Science. This may not be completely accurate, but the identification between the both terms stems from the innovative and top-notch nature of the latter field.
Beyond the extraordinary rate of innovation and technological changes in the diagnostic procedures themselves (which are, of course, the core of this profession), one cannot ignore the effect of developments in clinical laboratories’ working environment. This essay briefly reviews one major aspect of this ever-changing environment, namely developments in Information Technology (IT) and their influence on Clinical Laboratory Science.
The computerization of clinical laboratories has facilitated a smooth and highly efficient flow of information among the different stakeholders of the service. Several years ago, the referring party (mainly physicians) printed out (or, very often, wrote manually) a request for laboratory tests, and the laboratory returned paper-based reports from its own software, containing the different clinical values. This situation now belongs to history.
Today, all Electronic Health Records (HER) systems create a direct link between physicians and laboratories; the requests are being transferred directly to the lab, whereas the clinical values are sent directly to the physician’s desktop and into the patient’s records, all within minutes after the completion of the tests.
This process of networking with stakeholders is backed by a rather new approach to the inner workings within the laboratory. The tests themselves are made in fully automatized systems, which typically perform all the required spectroscopic and/or genetic tests from the same base sample, while controlling (though management software) for the quality of the tests, distributing the results, etc. The unambiguous result of this automatization is a sharp improvement in the reliability of the tests with minimal human interference.
Designated software can also identify potential pathologies through algorithms that follow clinical patterns (e.g. interactions among results) to assist numerous complex diagnoses, such as in the field of nephrology (where lab values are essential for diagnosis).
Finally, it is almost needless to say that the introduction of increasingly efficient laboratory IT implies ever-faster results. A test that would have taken more than a week to complete (as can be measured, for example, from the moment of taking the sample to arrival of the results) ten years ago and several days five years ago may take now hours or sometimes even minutes. It is not uncommon, for example, to see hospital physicians receiving the results of tests they have ordered shorty before on their hand-held computers, thereby being able to provide quicker response to patients’ needs.
Throughout the upcoming years we should expect further developments in this trend, albeit probably in a slower rate. The emergence of ‘micro-labs’ (i.e. diagnostic devices as tiny as post stamps) will be backed by portable computers (most probably hand-held), which will read, organize and transmit the results when needed. This may revolutionize diagnostic work everywhere, but most notably in harsh conditions such as battlefields, remote areas and healthcare systems with poor resources.
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