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Medical Laboratory Professionals Week: An Inside Look at a Clinical Laboratory

Monday, April 25, 2022

When you go to your healthcare provider for a routine blood test, they may say they’re sending your blood to the lab for testing. You may have heard the same thing if you have ever received a biopsy. But, what would happen if there were no lab?

Without a clinical laboratory, diseases, illnesses, cancers, and other diagnoses may never be confirmed. Your provider can suspect a disease or condition from your medical history and symptoms, but in several cases, a laboratory test is what will verify their suspicions and diagnosis.

Your healthcare provider and clinical laboratory professionals work hand in hand to diagnose your illness so that your provider can find the best treatment plan for you.

“Seventy to 80% of clinical decisions are based on laboratory tests,” said Mark Berry, Laboratory Director at Iredell Health System.

Though you may never meet the laboratory professionals who work behind the scenes to analyze and examine your test samples, the role they play in your diagnosis is essential.

During Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, April 24-30, it’s important to recognize the work of these outstanding individuals and understand the crucial impact they have on your health.

Iredell Health System Laboratory
The clinical laboratory at Iredell Health System provides a wide range of laboratory procedures that aid providers in diagnosing and treating their patients’ conditions.

Every day, an average of 800 to 900 specimens — blood, fluid, cultures, and tissue samples — arrive at the Iredell laboratory for testing. Each of these lab tests were requested by an authorized provider or caregiver based on the patient’s disease or illness.

After the collector positively identifies the patient, the specimens for blood, urine, cultures, and tissue are collected from the patient. The collector can be a physician, nurse, phlebotomist, physician assistant or caregiver, who labels the specimen with the patient’s full name and date of birth, the date, time, and their initials. The specimen is then sent to the lab for testing.

“The actual test analysis does not take very long. From the time the specimen is collected, most routine lab tests are completed within an hour. Some testing can be completed in less than 30 minutes while other testing, such as microbiological cultures and pathology tests, may take 12-48 hours,” said Berry.

All tests ordered on the patient specimen are processed through the hospital’s electronic medical records and lab information system for compliance, accuracy, and to obtain any information needed for contacting the patient’s caregiver regarding results.

According to Berry, some of the most common tests the lab sees are complete blood count (CBC) and urinalysis.

Over the past two years, COVID-19 tests have also become commonplace in the Iredell lab. In 2021 alone, Iredell’s laboratory processed 23,811 COVID antigen tests (rapid tests) and 6,045 PCR tests.

In order to process this large amount of tests in a timely manner, the Iredell Health System lab has a hard-working team made up of around 60 members. These employees are medical technologists, medical technicians, pathologists, histologists, cytotechnologists, phlebotomists, pathology physician assistants, laboratory clerks, and laboratory assistants — all of which are essential to the everyday workings of the lab.

“Our lab has several long-term and very experienced employees. We have some employees who have worked within the laboratory for over 40 years,” said Berry.

The lab has also recently welcomed a new addition to its team, Dr. Asha Sigei, chief pathologist and laboratory medical director.

To offer quality patient care, the inpatient lab is staffed 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Iredell Health System also offers outpatient lab services throughout the week.

Iredell’s laboratory is the only College of American Pathologist accredited hospital laboratory in Iredell County and has maintained accreditation for 42 years.

“Although most patients, or even hospital staff, don’t see the inner workings of the clinical laboratory, we strive to provide the highest quality of diagnostic services for our patients and healthcare providers. I am proud to have such a great, dedicated team of staff to work with at Iredell Health System,” said Berry.