The hospital laboratory, once a small, dark, cul-de-sac reeking of chemicals, and located in the bowels of the hospital next to the morgue, is changing its image and emerging as a high-tech, respected member of the hospital team. Medical technologists and technicians no longer huddle over racks of test tubes; instead, they work in brightly-lit, air-conditioned labs, monitoring and maintaining sophisticated laboratory analyzers capable of running hundreds of patient samples each day.
Function of the Laboratory
The laboratory performs tests on blood, urine, stool, sputum and other body fluids. The results obtained from these tests aid your doctor in diagnosing and treating diseases, and monitoring therapeutic drug treatments and medications. Yearly physicals, combined with routine lab tests, help to prevent disease through early detection.
The emergency department in any hospital depends on having the lab immediately available to perform any STAT testing which may be required to help stabilize or save a patient’s life. The emergency department physician relies on the laboratory to crossmatch blood for an accident victim, or run a set of cardiac chemistries to confirm a suspected heart attack, or to aid in the diagnosis of a sick child.
Inpatient Lab Testing
Besides being available for STAT testing for the emergency department, the hospital lab is staffed 24 hours a day to perform routine, timed, and STAT lab tests on inpatients–whether it is the middle of the night, or the middle of the afternoon. Inpatients are often monitored around the clock for coagulation therapy when using blood thinners, cardiac tests for suspected or confirmed heart attack or hemograms to monitor bleeding.
Outpatient Lab Testing
The hospital lab is equally important as an outpatient testing facility. Outpatient testing may include work-ups for upcoming surgeries, yearly check-ups, monitoring blood thinners and medications for thyroid and cholesterol levels and follow-up testing after a patient is discharged from the hospital. The hospital lab offers the convenience of local service, and familiarity with both the outpatient and his physician. Hospital labs depend on their outpatient testing to make up money lost during times of low in-house census.
As a support service, the hospital laboratory is a major money-maker. In addition to providing services for inpatients, outpatients and the emergency department, many hospital labs offer “outreach” work–lab testing for local doctors’ offices, and nursing homes, and provide a courier service to pick up lab specimens. With the technology that is available today, even a small hospital lab can perform tests that were once sent to specialized reference labs.