Angie's LIST Guide to
Types of diagnostic laboratories
Hospital labs, as the name might suggest, are run by and attached to hospitals. With this setup, the hospital can get tests processed on site, which makes the entire process much faster. Hospital labs also follow the same standards as the rest of the hospital. Doctors can send a wide range of tests sent to the labs for processing.
Outside labs allows hospitals and doctors to focus on direct care while trained lab technicians focus on processing the tests. Private labs are not attached to or run by hospitals. These labs process test results for private-practice doctors, insurance companies, health clinics and clinical-research facilities. These labs may vary in quality, so it is important to look into the lab being used in advance. Check Angie's List for member reviews and ratings of diagnostic labs in your area.
Research laboratories are used primarily for medical research being done by hospitals, universities and pharmaceutical companies, and they also may be used to process rare tests. It is cheaper for labs to send rare tests to labs already equipped to process them than to try to process all possible lab tests.
What medical diagnostic labs test
There are approximately 210,000 certified labs in the United States. According to the California Health Care Foundation, 70 percent of all medical decisions involving prevention, diagnosis and treatment involve lab tests. Many types of diagnostic laboratories perform specific types of medical tests, and some overlap within labs often occurs. For example, a hospital lab may include the functions of several of the lab types listed below.
A clinical pathology lab processes blood, urine and tissue with the goal of diagnosing diseases.
Clinical microbiology labs process tests looking at possible parasites, viruses and bacteria. In a similar fashion, clinical microbiologists are also looking to diagnose diseases, work to help prevent the spread of diseases and track the origin of illnesses caused by parasites, viruses and bacteria.
Genetics labs focus on diagnosing genetic diseases. They also can run elective DNA testing, paternity tests and sibling tests.
Reproductive biology labs test reproductive ability, such as semen analysis. You can find these labs in hospitals, independent labs and reproductive assistance facilities. Reproductive biology labs also aid in the process of fertility treatments and artificial insemination.
Clinical chemistry labs do blood analysis testing, including processing drug and alcohol tests. They also process tests looking at blood-enzyme levels.
Hematology labs are what you would find connected to a blood bank, as they test and analyze blood cells. They differ from clinical chemistry labs in that they look at the actual composition of the blood, as opposed to the content of the blood.
What diagnostic lab workers do
A variety of people work in diagnostic labs to make them function effectively. Lab technicians are trained to process specimens sent to the lab for testing. Each of the jobs described below demands minimal educational requirements.
Diagnostic medical sonographers use ultrasounds, sonograms and echocardiograms to diagnose a variety of medical conditions. They test patients directly, as opposed to testing specimens. Patients can get these tests done at labs in hospitals, an independent diagnostic lab, clinics and larger doctor's offices.
Medical laboratory scientists lead medical research and oversee the work of lab technicians. They work in testing labs and research labs, and they are generally the most highly trained members of the lab staff.
Laboratory assistants help lab technicians and other workers. They do a variety of tasks around the lab, but their level of responsibility is relatively low. They also have a lower level of education and training than other lab workers.
Radiologic technologists operate X-ray machines. Similarly to sonographers, they work with patients, as opposed to specimens. They work in hospital labs, doctor's offices and private labs.