Behind the Scenes at the Blood Lab
Having one’s blood drawn is a regular part of a thorough physical examination. The way it works is this: the average patient shows up at the laboratory, waits his or her turn to have the blood sample taken, and then goes about his or her day. Eventually, that patient gets the results from the physician, which may seem like a confusing list of numbers and medical jargon. Many patients don’t quite understand the results, but after they hopefully hear the good news that they are healthy, they forget all about it until their next physical exam. But what do those test results mean, and what really goes on behind the scenes of blood labs?
Employees of the Lab
Ever wonder who that person is who tightens a tourniquet around your arm, tells you to make a fist, and then inserts a needle to perform the draw? Clinical laboratory technicians, phlebotomists, and nurses are some medical professionals who work with these vital fluids. While the phlebotomist is the one who collects the blood, the lab techs perform tests on the fluids, and then pass the information on to physicians and surgeons.
In order to be qualified for this job, laboratory technicians need to be able to use scientific instruments and data, discriminate between subtle differences in colors and other factors on microscope slides, and make judgments regarding the tests. They are well trained in quality control techniques to ensure reliable results, and work with test tubes, glassware, and analyzing agents.
A common test ordered from the lab is a complete blood count, also referred to as a CBC. The results of this test can give a physician a snapshot of a patient’s overall health, plus reveal disorders that may be lurking, including infection, heart disease, cancer, and anemia. A CBC measures the following components:
- Hematocrit- which is the proportion of red cells to plasma
- White- infection-fighting blood cells
- Red blood cells-which carry oxygen
- Platelets- which help with clotting
If lab results come back with any red flags or abnormality, further testing may be needed to determine whether undetected medical problems are occurring.
Why These Tests Are Ordered
Besides being ordered for annual physical exams to scan for general healthiness, blood tests are ordered for a few other reasons. They may be ordered by a doctor if an underlying medical condition is suspected, to monitor an existing disease, or to oversee certain medications. Some testing requires fasting before an appointment, while other types of testing do not.
How Long It Takes to Obtain Results
The turnaround time varies for getting results back from blood tests. Depending on the type of test being performed, the instructions from the physician, and the laboratory itself, it could take less than an hour to obtain results or up to several days or even a week.
Whether a patient’s blood is being tested for a routine inspection or more specific information is sought such as details on lipids, enzymes, thyroid production, or waste products, blood lab technicians and procedures can handle it all. All of this goes on behind the scenes in a medical laboratory to keep patients healthy and doctors well informed.