Q&A with Kathy Lang, Lab Tech

Kathy Lang

Kathy Lange

What does a lab tech do?

A Lab Tech is responsible for providing the clinician with accurate test results that help aid in a patients diagnosis. Literature states that 70-80% of all diagnosis are made from a lab result. During the Flu season, we will be running tests to check for influenzae. This testing involves a nurse or clinician obtaining a sample by inserting swab into the back of a patient’s nose. Once the swab is received in the lab, the testing will take about 15-20 minutes before results are reported back to the clinician. The current Flu testing done at MMC includes screening for the A or B antigen types. All influenza testing is reported to the State Lab Of Hygiene in Madison, so they can track what kind of influenza is circulating. This helps to establish the vaccine for the next year. The current interest in the EV-D68 Enterovirus is a problem , as the current tests used in most labs are unable to detect this virus. The patient should always remember, that a viral infection is not treated with antibiotics, however, a secondary bacterial infection may need treatment.

Once we complete testing, a clinician may order further testing to help make a diagnosis. Some additional test may include having blood drawn, or collecting a variety of other specimens – ie sputum, urine, etc.

The lab at MMC has the ability to do hundreds of tests. Some test results may take additional days to complete, or may be sent to a larger reference for testing.

When a patient comes for a lab draw, what should they expect?

A patient should know it is their responsibility to make sure they fast if is it required for the test they are taking. In order for us to do a test, we must have a clinician’s order before performing any testing. Also, it is important to note that while we may be able to answer some of the questions regarding a patient’s testing, you should always confer with the provider ordering the testing as different tests can be used to check for different things.

If I come to the MMC Lab, how do I know my blood sample won’t get messed up with someone else?

At MMC blood draws are completed either by a Technologist with a 4 year college degree, or a Technician with a 2 year technical college degree, or occasionally by a respiratory therapist with special training. In addition, a patient will always be asked for 2 identifiers, usually name and birthdate before collecting specimens. All collection tubes will then be labeled with a barcoded label in the patient’s presence. Testing will be done using by scanning the bar code attached to the tube. Results are then available to the clinician via a computer.

What is the largest misconception you think patients have about hospital labs?

I think there are several. The first is, we are not able to give advice regarding test results. Second, sometimes more than a single blood draw is required. This may be due to an additional clinician order, or the type of testing that is being done. Third, additional draws may be needed to check for change in value over a specific amount of time. And finally, drawing blood is a very small part of what we do.

If folks wanted additional health information about what happens in a laboratory what are some available resources?

The three professional society web pages that provide great information about the Lab experience include:

  • ASCP (American Society of Clinical Pathology)
  • CAP (College of American Pathologists)
  • AMT (American Medical Technology)