Bloodwork and Clinical Lab Results: Why High Standards Matter

Clinical labs are some of the busiest places in the entire healthcare system. In fact, there are more than 13 billion diagnostic tests performed annually across 250,000 certified clinical laboratories.

The results of these tests are enormously valuable, especially because they serve as guidelines for patient care. According to studies, doctors make between 60 and 70 percent of medical-related decisions based on what they see within various lab panels.

As might be expected with such a high testing volume, however, mistakes can happen. According to a BMJ Quality and Safety report published in 2014, about 12 million American adults experience outpatient diagnostic errors each year.

It’s crucial that clinical labs emphasize safety, efficiency and accuracy throughout all of their processes, as errors can lead to serious complications and negative outcomes for patients.

Here’s how successful clinical labs excel at upholding high standards, from the time a patient walks in the door until doctors receive blood work test results.

  • They maintain rigorous quality assurance protocols

Maintaining rigorous quality assurance procedures is vital, especially since diagnostic errors can have serious consequences. These include misdiagnoses, symptoms of existing conditions being exacerbated, or even death. In fact, a 2016 BMJ study cited “medical error” as one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer.

 Errors can happen every step of the way, which makes quality assurance challenging. According to Scientific American, “mistakes made prior to samples being tested comprise greater than 70 percent of lab-related errors.”

 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers information on what a good lab quality assurance program looks like, defining it as one that “establishes standard operating procedures (SOPs) for each step of the laboratory testing process, ranging from specimen handling to instrument performance validation” and “defines administrative requirements, such as mandatory record keeping, data evaluation, and internal audits to monitor adherence to SOPs.”

In addition, the CDC adds the program also “specifies corrective actions, documentation and the persons responsible for carrying out corrective actions when problems are identified” and “sustains high-quality employee performance.”

  • They uphold industry standards and best practices

Safe and successful clinical laboratories strive to uphold industry standards and best practices, drawing on existing information and also keeping tabs on any guideline updates that arise for bloodwork and other testing.

The CDC’s Division of Laboratory Systems (DLS) offers Laboratory Medicine Best Practices (LMBP). This resource offers a wealth of guidelines and information geared toward lab safety, including a resource library and laboratory training courses.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also has robust information on compliance, standards and safety.

The testing done at non-research clinical laboratories is further regulated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), under the auspices of the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). Labs can apply for a CLIA Certificate, following the directions of the CMS. Employees of clinical laboratories, especially phlebotomists, also take a certification exam after finishing their education.

  • They establish a laboratory culture based on integrity and shared values

Last but not least, clinical laboratories should develop a culture based on integrity and shared values. This means that every employee is not only aware of best practices and quality assurance protocols, but is committed to upholding these things, in the name of safety and accuracy.

With the healthcare industry’s move to patient-centered care, the best clinical labs must be known as places people can trust to provide world-class services and care. 

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