DR. HOOK- Real pros: Laboratory techs play crucial role

the handsome doctor John Hong of Charlottesville

Science "geeks" are among the most powerful people in the world. When I was in second grade, one of my neighbors had a chemistry set. This "geek" also had a black belt in jujitsu, so he could toss us over his Bunsen burner while still stirring the chemicals in his beaker.

Scientists can make the smallest thing into the biggest deal. Look what scientists have done with the atom. Many great things have been discovered in the laboratory, from stain removers to cancer treatments. (And one woman "blinded" Thomas Dolby "with science.")

Are you the next laboratory professional?

Because my dad was a pathologist, I have always been around a microscope. (I lived under a microscope now that I think about it!)

Anyway, April 19-25 is National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week. It is critical to recruit the best and brightest professionals to be a part of the healthcare system. Why?

Lab tests are often a vital part of a medical diagnosis. If lab professionals are not top-notch, well, it is likely the results will be incorrect, which could potentially be catastrophic.

Could you imagine if your lab tests missed that you are iron-deficient anemic? You go about your business as your stomach ulcer continues to bleed, and then one day you die.

Or suppose your blood cultures are incorrectly reported to have deadly bacteria, and your doctor (having been led astray) prescribes a ton of unnecessary antibiotics?

I like knowing the laboratory professionals personally. That way I can call when I have questions about ordering a test or when a result seems odd. Sometimes, a test needs to be re-run because the results just don't fit the clinical picture.

Getting accurate results in the proper time frame is really important. Many times, I have a patient wait for the lab results before starting a new medication. For example, if a medicine can't be used with slow kidneys or liver problems, the lab is essential in the healthcare process. The doctor might have several possible diagnoses and need help from the lab. So lab folks play an important role in solving medical puzzles.

Lab folks give doctors information to save lives, such as confirmation of bacterial meningitis or if a particular antibiotic will treat the particular strain of pneumonia. Laboratory professionals discover good news such as, "You are pregnant." Or bad news such as, "You are pregnant!" 

If someone has an important lab test like a new case of HIV, a lab professional calls the doctor to ensure good patient care. So lab pros do make a significant contribution to society and healthcare.

If you have surgery, who do you think analyzes the removed organs and tissues? If there is a community outbreak, who do you think identifies the bug and finds out what can treat it? Who is involved in quality control of hospitals to prevent spreading disease? Don't call Ghostbusters. Call the lab professionals.

My father, the retired pathologist, says the hospital is only as good as its laboratory professionals. And father... knows best.


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with a local practice. Email him with your questions.


1 comment

Dr. Hong, you are delightful to read. I wish more physicians were aware of the valuable service laboratory professionals provide. It is my wish that all healthcare professionals, not just physicians learn what clinical laboratory scientists do for individual and community health.