#MedLabDigest: How To Get The Best Results From The Medical Laboratory

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By Abimbola Onaoluwa

Did you know that you have a very important role to play in ensuring that the results you get from the laboratory are accurate and useful to you?

Yes, that is right!

Getting the best results from the laboratory is often hampered by challenging factors that prevent accurate and positively useful diagnosis from even the best laboratories.

How then can you prevent or avoid these challenges and get the best results?

There are many factors that can cause errors and prevent accurate and reliable results from the medical laboratory. However, it is quite surprising that majority of these errors are pre- analytical errors.
Up to a staggering 93% of the total possible errors! That is quite a huge finding according to Lippi et al as reported in 2006.
Can you imagine that?

The MLS (Medical Laboratory Scientist) has not even started analysing the sample and already plenty possible errors are leading to wrong results and potential misdiagnosis… Wow!

Put simply , pre-analytical errors are the mistakes that happen before the Medical Laboratory Scientist begins to analyse patient samples. These are errors that occur from the time the Medical doctor asks the patient to do the test to the time the patient’s sample is ready for analysis on the laboratory bench.

So, let us talk about some of the pre – analytical challenges that prevent accurate and useful diagnostic results from even the best laboratories and how you can avoid them.

First, wrong patient preparation.
Let us assume a patient was asked to run a Fasting Blood Sugar test , but the patient was not told to avoid food for at least 10 hours before the test and this patient is a nocturnal person who likes to snack on food in the night.

Of course, by the time the test is run; even when the laboratory has done everything right, the patient’s result will not give an accurate picture of the fasting state. Why? The patient is not yet in fasting mode and had eaten a few hours ago.

Another funny example that talks about this is when a patient scheduled for a Creatinine test procedure has been actively going to the gym and running strenuous exercises till just the day before the test.

That creatinine result will not be diagnostically useful!
Some other pre-analytical challenges include:

  1. Poor sample collection which affects some of the specimen components that are about to be measured (this is a major reason to patronise only qualified Medical Laboratory personnel and accredited facilities).
  2. Poor specimen handling , transport and storage. This particular one reminds me of several hilarious examples.

I remember the intern who made a mistake by collecting an Electrolytes, Urea and Creatinine sample in an EDTA bottle ( wrong specimen collection bottle). Instead of risking the patient’s anger by getting a redraw i.e. asking to collect another sample; this newbie turned the contents of the wrong bottle into the appropriate bottle; which led to highly erroneous results.

Every sample meant for the medical laboratory has an appropriate container as well as proper collection technique. Any deviation from the correct procedure is an invitation to misdiagnosis due to erroneous results.

The list of pre-analytical errors is definitely longer than the above. But, these few are the ones that each person can still control and prevent to an extent.

So, how do you prevent the above?

  • By getting the appropriate information before you take any test. Either from asking your healthcare provider questions or from reading up.
  • By complying with all pre test preparations. If you are asked to avoid certain foods like meat or other foods before a test; please do that. It is in your best interest.
  • By ensuring you patronise only qualified medical laboratory scientists working in accredited laboratories. This is about your health; you can not afford to cut corners or take shortcuts.
  • Smile and be on your best behaviour when you go to the laboratory. Yeah, courteous smiles will always win any day and sometimes all the overworked laboratory staff need is just your motivating smile.

What have you got to lose, if you smile? Together, we can all work towards getting the best results out of the medical laboratory.

A beautiful week ahead to you.

If you have any questions , please drop them as a comment on this post or send an email to medlabdigest@gmail.com.

Onaoluwa Abimbola is a Nigerian Writer,  Medical Laboratory Scientist and #HealthForAll Advocate

#MedLabDigest comes to you every Monday on this blog.

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