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A wide range of tests for diagnostic, identification, and preventative purposes fall under the umbrella of what’s involved with clinical pathology in California. Broadly defined, “pathology” simply means the study of causes and effects. When a lab is clinical in nature, it:
- Attempts to determine a relationship between what’s causing certain reactions within the human body are made in a laboratory environment with various testing methods.
- Evaluates specimens and presents results showing what was found in those samples in a detailed report that provides answers to doctors and healthcare professionals and patients.
What’s Involved with Clinical Pathology?
Clinical pathology includes the use of microscopes and other testing equipment to safely and thoroughly evaluate the content of various samples. Tests in clinical labs (assays) often look for predetermined substances, including some that are not naturally found in the human body, as would be the case with a urinalysis for drug screening purposes. No conclusions are drawn from the samples. Results are simply presented and interpreted by the person(s) reviewing that information. Regardless of what’s being tested, the basic process involves:
- Collecting a sample and preserving it to avoid contamination
- Evaluating specimens with appropriate testing techniques
- Providing results in a timely, efficient manner
What Types of Specimens Are Used in Clinical Pathology?
Blood is the most common type of specimen evaluated in a clinical pathology lab. A blood sample may be examined in its entirely (all parts of blood are evaluated), as the fluid that’s left when white and red blood cells are taken out of the sample (plasma), or as a clear fluid separated from blood (serum).
Urine is another common clinical pathology specimen. Consisting of 95 percent water and 5 percent products/byproducts made in the kidneys, urine identifies various substances that have been processed by the body and not absorbed. Urine tests can be done for medical reasons, to confirm a pregnancy, or for random or mandatory drug testing. Tested specimens may also include:
- Phlegm sneezed or coughed into a container
- Spinal fluid
- Joint fluid
- Bone marrow
What Are Common Clinical Pathology Tests?
A complete blood count (CBC) is the most common clinical pathology test. A CBC examines all of the physical characteristics of blood. Abnormalities can indicate that the body is fighting a disease, as is the case when white blood cell counts are high.
A urinalysis evaluates the appearance and contents of urine. Testing includes a visual inspection, a dipstick test, and a microscopic examination. As with a blood test, a urine test often provides clues to suggest what’s going on within the body.
Hematology testing is done to confirm a medical diagnosis. Another common reason for this type of blood testing is to monitor a specific condition and any medications being taken to manage symptoms or ease discomfort.
Toxicology testing measures the amount of legal and illicit drugs in the body. Both blood and urine samples are analyzed with this type of clinical pathology testing. Toxicology testing is done for one of four purposes: health evaluation, drug testing, forensic testing after death, and performance testing for athletes. Clinical pathology in California may also involve:
- Hemoglobin A1C testing to track blood sugar levels
- Respiratory nasal testing to identify sources of respiratory or sinus infections
- Immunology testing to determine if there are issues with the immune system
- Lipid testing to check fat levels in the blood
What Can Be Determined from Clinical Pathology Test Results?
The most common reason for clinical pathology tests is for diagnostic purposes to identify a medical condition or confirm a preliminary diagnosis. Routine screenings may be ordered to see how medications are working or to determine if a change in dosage or type of medication is necessary. The purpose of screenings varies by age group. For adults over 50, for instances, screenings are often recommended to check for conditions specific such as chronic high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Mandatory testing may be required for patients in an addiction treatment program or employees working within certain industries.
Clinical pathology in California specific to laboratory testing may produce results that are qualitative and quantitative in nature. Qualitative results will identify what is in a sample, as in a specific virus or type of bacteria. Quantitative findings go a step further and identify specific levels or amounts of various substances in a specimen. In some instances, further testing is necessary to obtain additional information about what a sample indicates about a patient’s health and well-being.