Medical Laboratory Scientists (MLS) and Medical Laboratory Technicians (MLT) — also known as Clinical Laboratory Scientists (CLS) — perform laboratory tests on patient samples to provide information needed to diagnose or monitor treatment. Examples of common laboratory tests include tests to detect anemia, diagnose diabetes and strep throat, and provide a transfusion to an accident victim.
Medical laboratory science involves diagnostic laboratory testing from A to Z. These professionals do everything from providing your cancer testing results, to predicting the correct antibiotic to prescribe, to typing the correct blood for surgery. MLS professionals provide answers to life-and-death decisions every day.
Have you ever wondered who conducts the detailed laboratory testing for your annual exam, such as cholesterol and glucose levels, and analyzes the results? Or who conducts specialized testing for genetic disorders like sickle cell disease? How about those who identify an antibiotic resistant infection like Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and determine which antibiotic is required to save someone’s life? Well, if you thought that it was your physician, or perhaps a nurse or someone else you see at your doctor’s office or in the hospital, you would be incorrect.
Doctors rely on laboratory test results to make informed patient diagnoses. Patient history along with physical signs and symptoms are vital, but most diagnoses need confirmation that only laboratory tests can provide. The laboratory professionals also contribute to wellness testing, guiding treatment, and monitoring patient progress.
In a 2008 report in the Annals of Clinical Biochemistry, authors Victoria Khromova and Trevor Gray of Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, UK, reported that the junior doctors they surveyed were more confident in their knowledge of when to request tests than in their ability to interpret the results. In fact, 18 percent of them said they would order a lab test without knowing how to interpret the result. The authors concluded that the elimination of pathology and laboratory medicine from the curriculum in many medical schools is jeopardizing patient safety.
Ask your physician, nurse, pharmacist or biology graduate about Vitamin C acting as interference in glucose and triglyceride testing, or causes of false positives in pregnancy testing, or World Health Organization (WHO) classifications for Hodgkin disease and diagnostic criteria, or ways to test for swine flu (H1N1) and avian flu (H5N1), or genetic testing modalities for cystic fibrosis, or who is most likely to show antibodies to Kell during a STAT emergency test for life-saving blood in surgery, or any other critical laboratory test and its interpretation. These aspects of lab testing are generally not in the body of knowledge of any of these medical professionals, and yet it is completely in ours.