Steve Halasey, CLP.

Steve Halasey, CLP.

For the public at large, the field of clinical laboratory testing is more or less a black box. An individual’s physician orders a test to be performed, laboratory technologists or surgeons extract appropriate fluid samples or tissue specimens, and after a time test results are delivered to the ordering physician and the patient. It is a rare individual who seeks to know more about how clinical labs arrive at the test results that characterize their health status and help to guide the selection of appropriate therapies.

Such absence of curiosity on the part of the general public is a little dismaying, not only because the entire field of clinical lab testing is fascinating in its own right, but especially because the technologies and procedures used in clinical laboratories can exercise a decisive influence over an individual’s future health. One might expect that a patient whose life depends on the results of testing performed in a clinical laboratory would have some interest in knowing more about how specimens are processed, the significance and limitations of the biomarkers detected in those specimens, and the analytical tools used to report findings.

Those who create tests and perform clinical lab testing should also have an interest in making sure that what they do is better understood by the general public than has recently been the case. The field of clinical lab testing is rapidly evolving to take advantage of ongoing discoveries in human molecular biology as well as advancing technological developments, as demonstrated in this issue’s discussions of innovations in several important fields:

  • A novel analyzer for cerebrospinal fluid that automates and improves on current cell-counting systems.
  • Biomarker testing that can guide the application of emerging immunooncology drugs to treat and perhaps defeat cancer.
  • Application of a novel magnetic resonance system to speed the detection of bloodstream infections.
  • Emerging interest in mass spectrometry as a tool for pathogen identification.

Such innovations promise significant improvements in patient care wherever they are available. But stimulating support for the adoption of such advances can be difficult when doing so may incur incremental costs for benefits that aren’t completely grasped by those in the general public who are, of course, the ultimate healthcare payors. Tallying the costs of healthcare on an individual and population level is an important role for healthcare economists. But to understand the value of the advances now being adopted in clinical laboratories, it’s also important to follow the technology.

Steve Halasey
Chief Editor, CLP
[email protected]
(626) 219-0199