When I first heard the “basement to boardroom” phrase coined by Stephanie Wells of Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics, it reminded me of an industry meeting that I attended a year and a half ago. Someone there painted a picture of clinical lab professionals as an introverted group, content to work in the shadow of others. In his view, those who work in labs are happy in their world of samples and tubes, which more often than not was located in the basement of hospitals. While I thought this was an interesting observation, my conclusion has always been that lab professionals are a dedicated and dynamic group of individuals deserving of the recognition and respect afforded not only to those in the boardroom, but to those throughout the universe of health care professionals.

One needs only to look at the many ways in which lab professionals are indispensable to health care to realize the folly in not recognizing their contributions. Consider these facts:

  • Laboratory services are critical to the prevention, early detection, and diagnosis of disease.
  • Lab testing is the basis for most treatment decisions; in fact, testing data influences more than 70% of health care decisions.
  • Roughly 7 billion lab tests are performed each year; nearly everyone has had and benefited from one.

Moreover, there are numerous examples of lab professionals who take part in essential projects throughout the world. For example, Candace Golightly, MLT (ASCP), and John R. Snyder, PhD, MT (ASCP), recently participated in a teaching mission to Zambia as part of a program to improve HIV/AIDS screening, diagnosis, and therapy monitoring.

Still, recognition and reward begin with knowledge. Many are simply unaware of the role that clinical laboratory services and diagnostics play in health care, and they generally take for granted the availability and reliability of lab testing and results. The Laboratory Health Care Coalition (LHCC) is an informal alliance of 10 organizations formed to promote public awareness and appreciation of clinical diagnostic testing in health care. Preliminary LHCC research, for example, found that the utilization of clinical laboratory information and innovations in diagnostics has improved clinical outcomes, reduced disability, lengthened life, and saved money.

And speaking of money, it still talks. That’s why documenting the economic benefits that laboratories provide is essential in this era of increased demands on the federal budget and concerns about rising health care costs. Labs must present themselves as value generators instead of cost centers. The competition for approval, coverage, and appropriate reimbursement is intense, and it is imperative that lab professionals take a leadership position in making the case that what they do is worth it.

As lab professionals take a more visible role, emerging from the basement and countering the false perceptions of them, National Medical Laboratory Week, April 24-30, is a good time to intensify the focus on their contributions. Plan some activity to increase public awareness and appreciation of your profession, and give yourself and your colleagues a pat on the back. As someone said at a recent seminar, demand recognition from the boardroom and remind the medical executive staff that you provide at least 75% of the information they need.

Carol Andrews
[email protected]